Friday, July 8, 2011

Short Story Friday: Thesis part 4

This is story is one of the reasons I started writing my thesis about Papa in the first place.  This is just an incredible story to have survived such an attack without a scratch.  And, being that he was Army instead of Navy, this makes it come from a completely different perspective than you've ever heard before.

IV
SIXTEEN-INCH GUNS

RCA RADIOGRAM, R.C.A. COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
RECEIVED AT 223 SOUTH KING ST., HONOLULU AT 1941 DEC 14 AM 8 17 STANDARD TIME
TO: PRIVATE JOSEPH BREWER JR FT KAMEHAMEHA HI
WIRE US IF YOU ARE OK
            J C BREWER WISNER LA PO BOX 248

Sunday 7 December 1941
            Corporal Pike walked through the barracks, every man waiting for his seal of approval. The eight of us – some men still recovering from the Honolulu Bowl the night before – dressed in our Class A uniforms for Sunday morning inspection by our squad leader, Sergeant Daniel. Our squad of nine men operated Gun 14 of the Hawaiian Coast Artillery, a sixteen-inch naval gun on a land-based mount, located at Fort Barrette on the south side of Oahu. Pike reached the last bed – mine – and we heard those familiar bootsteps on the threshold. I saw that cattle rancher’s silhouette out of the corner of my eye.
            “Room, ten-hut!” Pike ordered. The squad snapped to attention. Pike addressed the sergeant and barked, “Squad prepared for your inspection, Sah-gent,” in his Boston accent.
            “Thank ya, Corporal Pike,” he responded. Pike stepped away to stand by his own bed across from me. “Mornin’, Gun 14,” the Texan bellowed.
            “Mornin’ Sergeant Dan Earl!” we replied. Sarge gave his usual half grin to our greeting. He walked from bed to bed, taking note of each man, his uniform, his rifle, his foot locker, and his sleeping area. He might stop and ask a man to quote some reg for him. He might say nothing. And then he’d move on. Sarge had a slight limp and a scar across his cheek from the Great War. He believed in unit cohesion and discipline for running his squad, and he demanded the most out of us in order to reach those ends.
            “Glad to see you boys lookin’ good for Sunday Service. At ease.”
            “Thank you, Sergeant.” We relaxed as ordered.
            “Only one problem I got, boys. Corporal Pike, how many times have I got to tell you that the American Defense ribbon ranks above the Pacific Campaign ribbon? Half of these boys have ’em on backwards and don’t even know it.”
            “Sorry, Sahge, I—”
            “Yeah, I’ve heard you before: the colors look too much alike. If it’s that much of an issue, delegate it.”
            “Yes, Sahge.”
            “Now,” Daniel paused to unfold a sheet of paper. “News for the day: Britain declares war on Finland in support of the Soviet Union. Soviet forces push Wehrmacht back 200 miles from attack on Moscow. FDR agrees to plan to help defend British empire if attacked. Football Scores: USC and UCLA tie at 7, Texas 71 - Oregon 7, Washington State 0 - Texas A&M 7, Utah 12 – Arizona 6. Anybody else? Brewer, your Bulldogs are done with, right?”
            “We’ll get ’em next year, Sarge,” I replied.
            “Louisiana Tech might wanna try beating a real team first,” Private Turner hollered. The entire squad laughed.
            “I think your new coach is gonna be good for the team,” Pike interjected. “What’s his name again? Aillet?” pronouncing the L’s and T in the name.
            “You’re right, Corporal,” I told him, “but it’s pronounced ‘eye-yay.’”
            “News from Post Headquarters,” Sarge continued. “Bonnie Mae Jefferson singing Tuesday night at the Enlisted Club. Post basketball team plays visiting team from the U.S.S. West Virginia on Thursday. You boys’ll love this: all forces ‘at ease’ today, so we won’t be bringing helmets and rifles to chow!”
            A cheer surged out of the room.
“What time’s Chapel, Corporal Pike?”
            “Mass is at 0930, Sahge.”
            “We ain’t all Catholic, Corporal.”
            “Oh, right, the Protest-ant service is at 1100. Anything else, you guys?”
            Private Goudert spoke up, “What’s the fishing forecast look like?”
            “Peak time’s around 0800.” Sergeant Daniel strutted around the barracks as he addressed us. “If we get back from chow and get the big gun cleaned in time, we can squeeze in some fishing before Chapel. Anything else, boys?”
            “No, Sergeant Dan Earl!” we replied.
            “Good enough. Get changed into your fatigues and we’ll head out to breakfast.”

            We left the mess hall around 0715. The sun beamed on my left shoulder, up a few degrees and finally peeking over the hills.
            “Another day in paradise,” Corporal Pike muttered low enough for Sarge not to hear. “Too bad your Martha Lou can’t enjoy it with you, eh?”
            “If the Army wanted me to have a wife, they would’ve issued me one,” I whispered.
Pike gazed out at the ocean. “Ever been surrounded by this much water before?”
            “Not since the Flood of ’27. Wisner was an island while the Mississippi River flooded the whole area.”
            “Yeah, up in Boston, we…” Pike’s voice trailed off as a truck passed, so I didn’t catch what all he said. I was about to tell him about moving to Ohio in ’27, but then I realized he was no longer talking. The truck had gone past us, but I could still hear engine noise.
            Off to my right, I saw a black cloud rising from the ocean westward. The cloud took individual shapes like a swarm of flies, then like a flock of birds. Only thing was, their wings weren’t flapping.
            “Get out of here! RUN!” Sergeant Daniel yelled.
            We took off for the barracks, about half a mile away. I kept checking to see how far away they were. They got a mile out and I recognized them as Japanese Kates.
“Take cover!” Daniel yelled. I dove behind a line of sandbags with the first wave strafing the ground. In that moment I realized nobody but Sarge had been shot at before.
            “What do we do, Sahge?” Pike asked once the planes flew by.
Daniel looked over the wall to see another wave followed close behind them. “Pike, Turner, when this wave passes, run ahead and grab all the rifles and helmets. Then meet us in the bunker outside. Pietrzak, you run to Battery HQ and get firing orders – GET DOWN!”
            I tucked myself into a little ball when one flew directly overhead.
“You see that Jap?” Sarge shouted, “I’ll sure recognize that pilot if I ever see him again!” He looked around at the squad still cowering. “What are ya’ll waiting for? Get going!”
Turner and Pike turned around and sprinted ahead as Pietrzak took off inland. Sergeant Daniel led the rest of us from one bunker to another. All around us, other men ran for cover. About 100 feet away from the barracks, a lone plane flew overhead, parallel to the shore line.
Sergeant Daniel flew at me, yelling “Incoming!” He threw his body over Goudert and me. Debris fell everywhere. Eternal seconds later, the debris had finished falling, but he was still lying on top of us, breathing heavily. Sarge looked all around. “Let’s go, move on,” he said at a considerably lower volume.
            Goudert was hyperventilating and still covering his head.
“Move it, boy!” Sarge shouted.
Goudert didn’t move.
Sarge grabbed Goudert by the belt and collar, yanked him up on his feet, and slapped us both on the rear ends like a yoke of horses.
            We ran on until we made it to our bunker. Pike and Turner, waiting for us there, handed each man a helmet, rifle, and ammunition. I could hear the planes all around us, but couldn’t see any nearby.
Pietrzak jumped over the wall and into the bunker.
            “What’s the word, PFC?” Sergeant yelled.
            “Hole up tight, sir. No firing orders.” Pietrzak took his helmet and rifle from Turner.
            “No firing orders?” the indignant Corporal asked. “We’re coastal defense, isn’t this what we trained for?”
            “The Japanese ships are out of range. The ships in port seem to be their target – and we have most of the U.S. Pacific fleet here at Pearl. The good news is this doesn’t appear to be an invasion.”
            “That sounds fishy,” Pike muttered. “I bet they knew about this in Washington.”
            “Still,” Pietrzak continued, “the barracks are easy targets. Our orders are to stay in the bunkers. Also, I brought back a truckload of ammo.”
            Sergeant Daniel waved his hands to shush us. “Did you turn off the truck, Pietrzak?”
            “Sure did, Sarge.”
Daniel peered over the bunker. “Another wave’s coming! Brewer, get over there quick and get a case of that ammunition!”
            “But Sarge, I –”
            “You jump that wall like I told you to or I’ll throw you over it myself!”
He didn’t have to finish his sentence before I got up and hopped over the wall. The truck was about fifty feet away – smart on Pietrzak’s part, in case it got hit – but it made for a long way for me to run. I pulled a 1500-round case off the truck and took off for the bunker again. If I didn’t hear the bullets rattling around inside, I would have thought it was empty.
            The wave flew over when I was safe inside the bunker. I lay there trying to catch my breath. Sergeant Daniel knocked on my helmet. As soon as I looked up, he shoved my rifle into my hands, then ordered Turner to the truck. With my hands shaking, I tried to load the clip in my M1. Thank God for all those rifle drills, I thought. I eased up to the seaside bunker wall between Daniel and Pike.
            When I looked over the sandbags, a small formation passed directly in front of the sun. With the sun in my eyes, the Flying V turned into a flock of mallards. I was back on Catahoula Lake in a duck blind with Daddy and Squirrel on either side. I shook my head and brought myself back to Hawaii.
I took a firm hold on my rifle. I aimed at the lead plane, then fired my entire clip. He got closer and I could see his right engine smoking. He didn’t go down, but I sure felt better.
            “Fantastic shot there, Brewer!” Pike slapped me on top of my helmet.
            “Just like the day Squirrel and I went out with twenty-five rounds, then came back with twenty-six ducks.” I reloaded my rifle. “I guess we missed fishin’ time, didn’t we?”
            “And Mass too. But I’m sure everybody out here’s praying right now.”

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