Monday, December 07, 2009

Remember ~ Honor ~ Teach

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I am always reminded of my Uncle Matt (M.D. "Matt" Ellington ~ November 28, 1920 – April 13, 2003) on this day. Uncle Matt was there on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.

So this year I started looking for a letter M.D. wrote about his experiences that day. I don't know if it was printed by the Star Reporter, but I'm happy Uncle Matt's family was able to locate a copy of the letter he wrote:

MAY 25. 2001

Letter to the Editor

The Sweetwater Reporter
Sweetwater, Texas 79556

Dear Editor:

It occurred to me the other day that this coming December 7th will be the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There is not too many of us survivors of that day that are still around, so I thought that some of my activities on that day might be of some interest to your readers.

That day certainly was not a day of mirth but some things that happened that day are a laughing matter to me now; they certainly were not funny on December 7, 1941. As a matter of fact, I can't think of anything in my life that are worse than the things I saw that day.

I was born on November 28, 1920 in Sweetwater, Texas. I lived in Sweetwater until 1935, where I worked for The Reporter as a delivery boy and later as a printer's helper. In 1935, we moved to El Paso, where I graduated from Austin High School. Later, I moved to San Diego, California.

Due to a series of circumstances and decisions, too numerous to mention here, I wound up being prime "cannon fodder" for World War II. I was a member of Battery B of the 251 Coast Artillery, which was part of the California National Guard from San Diego. We were an anti aircraft outfit, originally equipped with 3 inch diameter anti aircraft guns. Six hours after the national service act went into effect on September 16, 1940, we were in the U. S. Army.

We stayed in California for a very short time but was ordered to Hawaii, in the fall of 1940. After our arrival in Hawaii we were stationed in a tent city at Fort Ruger, which was near Honolulu. However, about the time that the basic carpentry was finished on Camp Malakole, we were transferred to there. We stayed at Camp Malakole until the war started on December 7, 1941. During that year of peace, being in Hawaii, was fun and there were many things to do to keep us pleasantly occupied.

We had spent quite a bit of time in training and by December 7th, 1941, we were quite proficient with those old 3 inch guns.

There was a rule at Camp Malakole prior to WWII that if one got to the mess hall prior to 8 o'clock on Sundays and other holidays, that they would still be fed. On December 7, 1941, I woke up about 7:20 a.m., shaved and dressed and was on my way to the mess hall when the 1st Sgt. caught me and put me in charge of the regimental garbage haul off detail of the day and I was to report to regimental headquarters right after breakfast. Then I went on to the mess hall. When I was on the porch of the mess hall, I looked over toward Pearl Harbor and observed some anti aircraft bursts and other black smoke. I thought to myself, "Now isn't that just like the Navy to be holding target practice on Sunday morning." Thinking little of it, I went on into the mess hall to breakfast. I was eating a bowl of corn flakes when I heard automatic weapon fire and thought that one of the guards on duty, carrying a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), had accidently fired it. I didn't think much about it and went on eating my corn flakes. A minute or so later, I heard automatic weapon fire again but this time it was accompanied by holes in the mess hall roof. This put me into motion. I ran to the mess hall door just in time to observe dirt being kicked up by bullets and looked up to see the red balls on the bottom of the wings of the aircraft doing the strafing. However, I could not understand how they got there because I felt sure that the Navy was guarding the islands further out than the range of carrier based planes. That can be added to the long list of things people were wrong about on that day.

We scurried about doing such foolish things as firing 45 calibre automatic pistols at the strafing planes. About that time, I saw the first sergeant and asked him if I should still report for the garbage haul off detail. He said, "Keep shooting. Those damn things are Jap planes." We did get one 50 calibre machine gun into action but I don't believe that it damaged any of the aircraft. A torpedo plane that had already dropped its torpedoes was strafing us about the time that a fellow with the nickname of "Available Jones" and myself jumped into the back of a truck. "Available" observed the tail gunner on the plane as he shot a couple of holes in the tarp on the truck that we were in and said, "Boy, they have us coming and going." A junior officer ran up to a man firing at the planes with his rifle and yelled, "Do you have authorization to fire on those planes?!" Another fellow started arbitrarily firing his rifle through the roof of one of the barracks. I guess he must have thought that he might hit one of the planes without even seeing it. If anyone even thought of getting the big guns in action, I never heard of it. The big guns were not any good for firing at aircraft as low as those anyway.

After the strafing raid slowed down, some of us started filling sand bags on the beach, where the big guns were set up, thinking that the big guns, where they were set up, might be of some use in case of an infantry invasion across the beach, However, about that time some semblance of order returned to our location and we were ordered to move and re- implace our guns at a spot right near the edge of Pearl Harbor. "Talk about locking the barn door after the horses were gone!" All along the road when we were moving our guns toward Pearl Harbor, people lined up waving and giving us the "V" for Victory sign.

It has been well published what we saw when we got to Pearl Harbor that day and, believe me, none of it was exaggerated. What a mess! And even we didn't realize the extent of the death toll and damage until reports started drifting in, a few days later, and we hadn't even seen Hickam or Wheeler Fields. A few days later, I saw Hickam and Wheeler Fields and they were a mess. We were thoroughly battered on December 7, 1941.

After we had put our big guns in their pre-planned wartime places at Pearl Harbor, we started filling sand bags, laying in ammunition and other things in preparation for a water borne infantry assault from the Japanese. As history tells you, the anticipated assault didn't develop. I don't know how they passed up the opportunity, unless they figured that occupying the Hawaiian islands would spread their ground troops too thin. Either that or they had no idea how badly they would trash us that day. I am certainly glad that it didn’t happen because that surely would have changed the complexion of WWII. Pearl Harbor was an excellent staging area for our later offensive assaults in the Pacific.

After a few days, we decided that the Japanese were not coming back right away so we started cleaning up the mess that resulted from our beating and counting our blessings for the fact that our aircraft carriers were not caught anchored in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. This fact changed the whole tune of the battle for the Pacific. Battle groups were built up around the carrier, instead of the battleship. Come to think of it, the aircraft carrier can be thought of as a battleship having extremely long range artillery, in addition to its many other advantages over the battleship. Carrier battle groups were in the center of our strategy in the battles of the Pacific during WWII.

During the above mentioned lull, among other things, the men of Battery B were allowed to return to Camp Malakole and take care of sending their civilian clothes home or throwing them away because we knew that uniforms would be the order of the day for sometime to come. When I got back to our barracks at Camp Malakole, I walked through the mess hall and there my bowl of corn flakes was still on the table and was swelled up to where at least one bowl height of corn flakes stood above the top of the bowl. I don't know who finally cleaned up that mess because I never got back to it. I never got back to Camp Malakole again during the war and probably never will, even if it is still there.

Early in 1962 the 251st was ordered to Fiji to set up a perimeter defense around one of the air fields that served as a refueling stop for some of the long range flights over the Pacific. From there we went on to several of the war zones in that part of the world.

Truly yours,
M. D. Ellington

The title of this post is the mission of Wreaths Across America, where I first found this interview of a Pearl Harbor survivor.

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