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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Monday, September 19, 2016

Taking Stock

Conrad Frieze in foreground with binoculars.  Richard Frieze shading his eyes on the right in bomb crater at Kaneohe NAS on December 7th 1941.

The CPO did not come back right away.  When we had finished our cigarettes, we looked at the big bomb crater out beyond the airplane and decided that it would be the best place for the machine gun.  The problem was how to rig it on something so it could be swiveled and fired.
In the ordnance room, Dick found a bench adapter that would hold the trunnion of the gun.  Meanwhile, I found a small wooden work punt dragged up on the beach near the launching ramp.  I dragged it to the crater and we place it on its side in the bottom and filled in around it with sand.  There were some concrete rounds with reinforcing steel rods protruding from nearby.  We put one at each end of the little boat.
I scrounged a parachute out of Number Four.  We spilled it and cut off the shroud lines for lashings.  I also found that the 30-caliber bow machine gun was in place in Number Four.  I brought it and some ammunition cans to the crater.  Others appeared to help us and before long we had a primitive anti-aircraft position and the only armed punt in the U.S. Navy and with a main and secondary battery of one gun each.  Someone brought a new case of ammunition for Dick’s 50-caliber.  The fires were still burning.  We stood and scanned the sky, still blue and studded with white clouds above the rolling black smoke but now that tropic sky was ominous.  It was still barely ten o’clock in the morning.
The VP-11 executive officer came by after a while and inspected our position approvingly.  He handed me a pair of binoculars and said, “Well, sailors, you are now an anti-aircraft battery.  We don’t know what is going to happen next, but they may be back.  Stay alert.  Anything you see up there may be a Jap because there does not appear to be many flyable airplanes left on Oahu.  They really did a number on us.”
We questioned him about details.  He confirmed that the OKLAHOMA had capsized and some other battleships had been sunk.  Pearl Harbor was a shambles with many men killed and wounded.  All military installations have been hit.  Hickam Field was the same shambles that we were.  The Army airplanes down the coast at Bellows Field had been wiped out.  At Kaneohe all our airplanes on the ground had been destroyed.  Our own casualties were high.  Out of about 350 men aboard the station that morning, we had nearly twenty killed and upwards of a hundred badly wounded.  [Allen Cunningham, my father’s shipmate in VP-11 was among those wounded on December 7th.  He was sent stateside and outlived my father by several years, marrying my step-mother a couple of years after my father’s death in 2002.]
During the attack we had shot down only the airplane that crashed on the base and one other that went into the water over toward Kailua.  When the enemy planes left, two or three had been trailing smoke as they flew out to sea.  He did not know how many Japanese had been shot down at Pearl Harbor, but understood that they got maybe twenty or thirty.
A little latker Glover appeared and slid down into the bomb crater to join us.  His face was twisted with anger and sorrow.  The front of his dungarees was smeared with dried blood, but he appeared unhurt.  Dicked asked him if he knew who we had lost.
“Some of them,” he growled.  “They got Luther Weaver—one bullet or piece of shrapnel in the chest and he just fell over.  Manning’s dead—Buckley and Formoe, too.  Lost a couple of officers, too.  Young ensign Foss was duty officer last night—the Jap that made the first run got him in the back with a 20-millimeter cannon.  Ensign Smartt was his relief—he got it in the second attack.
“They got old Curley Brown in VP-12, too.  He was on watch on an airplane moored to a buoy.  They set it on fire and machine-gunned him when he was swimming for the beach!  Dirty bastards!  There may be others I ain’t heard about.”
“Lot of guys wounded?”
“Too dang many—sick bay is overflowing and they are still trucking over to the hospital at Kaneohe.  Old Duke Byron took a bullet or piece of shrapnel in the guts.  We were in a stairwell in the hangar when that bomb hit.  Fell in a pile and there was blood all over—thought for a minute I was dead!  It was Duke, though, bleeding all over me.  We carried him out to a truck and he was still alive.”
As we adjusted to the reality of what had happened some of the stories were bitterly funny.  Glover said, “You should have seen old ‘Rigor Mortis’—he was out on the ramp firing a pistol fro behind a tractor and took a bullet in the leg.  He fell down and started yelling ‘I’m hit!  Somebody help me!’
“Two of us took a cot to use for a stretcher and ran out there.  We got him on it and started back but another strafe came at us.  We dropped Ballou and tried to dig us a hole in the concreted as the bullets went by.  When we looked up old Benny was disappearing around the corner of the hangar at a dead run—bloody leg and all!
“Hurrle got one right in the fanny—in one side and out the other.  Told him he is going to have a helluva time showing his war wound scars!  Asked him if he was running from them, but he said he was in a ditch—he remembered to keep his dead down, but forgot the other end!”
The sound of an airplane engine interrupted Glover.  I snatched up the binoculars and searched the clouds to the east.  Dick swung the machine gun into position.  We relaxed when I identified it as an Army P-40—the only airplane we say in the sky for the rest of the day.

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