WILLIAM P. RUSH, Clanton, Alabama
"I was serving aboard the Phoenix. When general quarters was sounded I went along to my battle station. I was so green and so young I was sort of disappointed we didn’t get bombed like the rest of them. I mean I was actually put out because we didn’t get hit! Can you imagine that?”
One reason the Phoenix survived the attack on Pearl Harbor was that the ship had been stripped and was riding high in the water. “I was going from my battle station to relieve the radioman in the radio shack,” Rush remembers. “I heard the call over the loudspeaker telling everyone to hit the deck because torpedoes had been sighted. I looked out and saw the wake. It went right under us. “We were low on provisions and oil, and we had stripped the ship, so we sat higher in the water. They missed us--two of them. We got out without a scratch.”
The battleships around them weren’t as lucky. There were men “swimming to us from all those ships that were burning and sinking. We were swamped with sailors climbing aboard,” Rush recalls. Many men were killed and Rush witnessed shocking scenes of death and destruction. “I saw men dragging bodies with ropes and motor launches through the oily water and debris. It was awful.”
Rush himself was reported by the Chilton County News as killed in action. “I was reported killed because they associated the Phoenix with the Arizona. But my mother wouldn’t believe I was dead. She said something just told her I wasn’t dead. About two weeks later she got a letter from me. But they had cut out everything I had put in except “I’ve still got my appetite. Love, Son.’ At least she knew then that I was all right.”
ANNA URDA BUSBY, Montgomery, Alabama
“I had just set my breakfast tray down when I heard this horrible noise. The ward nurse ran down the hallway,” Busby remembers. “It’s unusual for a nurse to run, so I followed her on onto the back porch. I don’t know how many minutes we were our there, but it couldn’t have been very long. We could hear a horrible noise and see smoke and fire. The ward nurse ran back to her office and telephoned a friend at Hickam Field. I heard her say, ‘My God, the Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor.’
“I went right away and changed from my hospital gown into my nurse’s uniform. l knew we would all be needed on duty.” Busby clearly remembers her emotional reaction when she realized that Pearl Harbor was under attack. “I was petrified. Petrified, scared, shocked. But you do what you have to do,” she says. “You follow routines. So I took care of the patients.”
That night Busby stayed at the hospital rather than returning to the nurses’ quarters. “I was too scared to walk the 100 yards from the ward to my quarters. I just knew the sentry would shoot if I didn’t respond to his ‘Stop. 'Who goes there?’ And I was sure I would be too frightened to speak. So I just stayed in the hospital, in the same bed where I’d been a patient the night before.”
During the next few days the hospital filled up with patients injured during the early morning attack on December 7. The delivery room was turned into an operating room, and babies were delivered in beds. “In no time at all,” says Busby, “the corridors outside the wards were filled with patients. Some nurses worked twenty-four hour shifts. Others worked twelve hours then were relieved. “A lot of things are vague about that time. But I know we were busy for days.”
MALLORY GOLSON, Prattville, Alabama
At first Golson and his shipmates thought it was planes from US aircraft carriers. “We thought they were just making a trial run on us,” he recalls, “to see if we were awake. Then we heard the explosions and saw a huge billow of smoke coming from the dry dock area. That’s when we greenhorns realized it wasn’t a drill. We knew something bad was happening.”
Golson remembers seeing the explosion of the Arizona. “It blew sky high. I saw that and I saw three airplanes shot down.” He also remembers how he and his shipmates responded to the crisis. “We weren’t terrified or scared. I don’t think we had time to think about getting scared. Basically, while it was all going on we just went to our jobs and did what had to he done.”
Two days after the attack, Golson sent a postcard home to his folks. “All of us were required to send this card to our next-of-kin. To let them know the shape we were in, whether we were well or sick or whatever. Mine happened to be ‘I am well.’ My mother saved the card, and I wondered for years why there was a hole at the bottom of it. I knew I didn’t put the hole there. Then it suddenly dawned on me, about ten years after my mother showed it to me. When you’re in the navy, you always write your name and then your rating after it. My rating had been removed from the card.”
Golson has returned to Pearl Harbor several times both as a serviceman and a tourist. “I made a trip out there with my wife in 1977,” he says, “and we went again in 1988. That Arizona memorial is a moving experience. It’II bring tears to your eyes. Surely it will.”
CARVEL HAYNES, Delta, Alabama
Haynes ran for the plotting room. It was underground with a steel overhead. Three of the men in his outfit didn’t make it. That night no one in Haynes’ entire unit slept. “Everybody was scared. The first meal we got was about seven or eight o’clock that night. It was after dark. There was a blackout, so no lights were on at all. The whole island was blacked out. You couldn’t light a match for a cigarette even. And if you did, the sentries thought it was sabotage. A lot of boys got shot that night because everybody was so jittery and scared. The guards weren’t any chances.”
The first report Haynes heard was that the Japanese government had attacked Pearl Harbor and successfully destroyed the navy. “They had us whipped, and the air force, too,” Haynes remembers thinking that day. “We were told they would parachute people in. That’s what we were afraid of.”
Thinking about the events of that memorable day, Haynes recalls that it was an accident he was even in Hawaii. “My unit was actually going to the Philippines but something happened to our ship. It slowed down and wasn’t making much progress. They put us in dry dock and we stayed there four or five days. Then they split up the outfit and distributed us out over the island of Oahu. I guess it was just fate for me to be there.”
JACK YOUNG: Huntsville, Alabama
“We had one pilot who took off from Wheeler Field that morning, and not in the most modern airplane either. He took off in this plane and it didn’t even have any guns in it. Don’t know what he thought he could do.”
When the Japanese attack came on Sunday morning, Young was in the mess hall eating breakfast. “I heard an airplane diving, then a loud explosion. I thought a plane had crashed. Instead it was a bomb going off at the other end of the field. I saw the first airplane go by at about treetop level. And soon as I saw the airplane, I knew it was the Japanese. They hit the mess hall and I got away from there. They had already bombed the airplanes on the field and the hangars. Everything was burning.”
The men at Wheeler Field did not know what damage had been done at Pearl Harbor, twelve miles away. “We heard all kinds of stories that night and the next week,” Young recalls, “but we didn't really know anything. We couldn’t leave our own airfield.” For the next couple of months, Young and the other mechanics worked around the clock repairing damaged aircraft and maintaining those that had been repaired. “We were just doing our jobs,” says Young.
Over the years, Jack Young’s feelings about the attack on Pearl Harbor have softened, but on some things he is still adamant. “I was angry about the attack; angry that anyone would do such a thing. Even after I got out of the service, I was very bitter. That’s gradually mellowed and I’m not as bitter now.”
HOWARD R. HUDSON, Montgomery, Alabama
It soon became evident that this was not a drill. “It kind of put the fear in us,” Hudson recalls. “We all scattered to keep out of the way. They were bombing the runways and hangars, trying to knock out the airplanes. A lot of people panicked, I guess, and they ran out on the parade ground. That’s where most of the boys were killed.”
After the first attack, orders were given for the men at Hickam Field to go down to the harbor in case the Japanese tried to land troops. The men were dispatched a platoon at a time. Hudson says starting out across the parade ground was the hardest thing he's ever done. “In a situation like that,” he says, “you mostly act on your training. We were all young boys, eighteen or nineteen.
“There wasn’t much you could do except run a little bit and hit the ground when the Japs started strafing. Then after the planes passed over, you’d run a little farther. We started out across the parade ground and I got across without getting hit.”
Hudson remembers the strafing and bombing seemed as if it would never stop. “A few minutes seem like an eternity when you’re actually under fire. And it was a long night, too. We didn’t know if the Japanese were going to try to land troops on the island. And we had a false alarm when some marine or navy pilots flew over. You know how rumors go. There were people who could see paratroopers and all coming down. There wasn’t anything to it, but we didn't know that at the time.”
At the time of this writing, Maradith Walker Geuder was associate director for public information at Mississippi State University. A native of West Point, Mississippi, she holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Alabama. She has previously written about actress Tallulah Bankhead and artist Bill Traylor for Alabama Heritage.
The editors wish to thank the following people and organizations for their generous assistance with this article. Norman Parker, state chariman, Alabama Pearl Harbors Survivors Association; George Murray, past president, APHSA; Noland Kitchens, president, Alabama Chaptor One, APHSA; West Alabama Oral History Project; Tuscaloosa Public Library; West Alabama Planning and Development Council; UA history department graduate students; Shelton State Community College; Stillman College; Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society; LaMar Hubbs; Guy Hubbs; Wendy Mills; and Tami Drane.
This feature was previously published in Issue #22, Fall 1991.