Eyewitness Reports in History Pearl Harbor Part 3

An eyewitness account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor starting United States involvement in World War II.

Pearl Harbor

Eyewitness Report: Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the first wave of 183 planes to attack Pearl Harbor, later wrote: "We flew through and over the thick clouds which were at 2,000 meters, up to where the day was ready to dawn. And the clouds began to brighten below us. At 0700 I figured that we should reach Oahu in less than an hour. But flying over the clouds we could not see the surface of the water, and, consequently, had no check on our drift. I switched on the radio direction-finder to tune in the Honolulu radio station and soon picked up some light music. I found the exact direction from which the broadcast was coming and corrected our course, which had been 5 deg. off. I was wondering how to get below the clouds after reaching Oahu. If the island was covered by thick clouds like those below us, the level bombing would be difficult, and we had not yet had reports from the reconnaissance planes. In tuning the radio a little finer, I heard, along with the music, what seemed to be a weather report. Holding my breath. I adjusted the dial and listened intently. Then I heard it come through a second time, slowly and distinctly: 'Averaging partly cloudy with clouds mostly over the mountains.... visibility good. Wind north, 10 knots.' What a windfall for us!" Nearly an hour later, Fuchida gave the Japanese word for tiger, signaling that a full surprise had been accomplished: "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

Ed Sheehan, an ironworker at Pearl Harbor, recalled in his book Days of '41: "When the second-wave planes came in, they appeared as if from out of nowhere, even soundless at first. They darted like angry birds at the Nevada, hitting her again and again. From a distance she seemed to shiver and shrug, but miraculously kept moving. Moments later racking detonations came from the nearby dry-dock area. Concussions followed, pulsing blasts of warm wind. I wanted desperately to hide, to crawl under something, anything, but there was no place to go. I realized that those last hits must have been made on the Pennsylvania, Cassin, or Downes-perhaps all three. A crane moving beside the dry dock stopped. Flames leaped out of the big sunken basin and smoke whorled up. I thought for a moment about the chief doing his Christmas cards there, only the night before. I kept moving toward the dry dock. I didn't want to go, but could think of nothing else to do. Then the destroyer Shaw was hit, out on the floating dry dock. The eruption was monstrous, appalling. The ship appeared to disintegrate into a million pieces, becoming a gargantuan fireball. The blast sent scraps twisting and flying in all directions, for thousands of feet, in great slow-motion arcs trailing streamers of smoke. I was probably a quarter of a mile away, yet one of the pieces fell at my feet. I picked it up, a curl of steel ripped clean and shiny, handball-sized. I thought of keeping it as a souvenir; it would have made a conversation-piece as a paperweight. Then I threw it away."

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