Friday, June 10, 2005

(18-2) HICKHAM FIELD, December 7, 1941 [Part. 3] by Jim Fulton


All the 23rd bomb’s B-17’s had been destroyed, the fuselage broken right behind the bomb bay. At first we thought the Japs were super bombardiers; but later we realized that bullets from strafing Jap fighters had ignited the bank of “Very-pistol” signal flares mounted in clips on the wall of the radio compartment. The flares were made of magnesium, the same material used in incendiary bombs, and they burned right thru the fuselage.


Our 4th Recon B-18 never did get orders to take off, but three B-17’s led by Blondie Saunders made an attempt. When the first Japanese planes roared over his NCO quarters at Hickam, just across the fence from the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor, Staff Sgt. Bernardino O. “Turk” Tortora told his new bride, Helen, to get down on the floor in the center of their house, jumped into his new Olds and drove the half-mile to the flight line. Turk, who was flight engineer on Blondie Saunders’ crew, found their B-17 burned in half. For the next hour he worked with others getting aircraft to a dispersal area. They loaded and armed a B-17 belonging to the 72nd Sq. Blondie told Turk to round up a crew and get aboard this bomber; Co-Pilot “2nd Lt. Spencer Treharne, bombardier Pete Vasalie, Eng. and top gunner Turk, and make up members: side gunners S/SSgt’s Victor M. Klein, Ralph “ Joe” Stiles, and radio operator Harvey F. Schlotte (Sgt. Billie Smith was unable to go as he had burned his hand; above)

“Japanese planes were still strafing when our threeB-17’s taxied out for takeoff”, Turk said. “Blondie led, one plane aborted, leaving just Blondie and Maj. Brook Allen”. We searched south and then northwest, Sgt. Schlotte kept picking up messages from the Japs which he could not decipher. Off the island of Niihau, with a horrible overcast, we knew we were close but could not see. Blondie took us down to 50 feet, skimming the waves, but we never saw them. Running out of fuel we had to give up. We landed at 1800 hours, with what seemed like every gun on Oahu firing at us.

We flew patrols for about the next seven days, sighting whales that looked a lot like submarines at a distance. Helen had been evacuated – what a relief to finally see her! I was awarded the Silver Star for my part in getting that search off on Dec. 7th

(After completing his missions with the 19th Bomb Group in the South Pacific, Turk was assigned as Eng. Off. to the first B-29’s operating against Japan out of Burma. Along with Gen. Curtis LeMay, he was with the team that found B/G Blondie Saunders in the jungle after a B-25 crash which cost Blondie a leg. Very soon after Dec. 7th, 1941 Blondie had left the 23rd Sq. to take command of the 11th Bomb Group, sister to the 5th Group at Hickam. Turk retired as a Col. after serving as Director of Materiel, SAC. Jim Fulton)

When it seemed the attack was over, we were given permission to go back th the barracks. The Mess Hall in the center of the barrack wings had been hit by bombs. Many died there. I might have been among them if I hadn’t chosen dozing over eating. In our bay, a bomb had come thru the roof and exploded about ten yards from my bunk. When I pried open the door of my wall locker I found nothing but ashes in the bottom. Among those ashes was two years worth of pictures I had wrapped to mail home the next day. The camera my Dad had hauled around France during WWl was gone. I had nothing left. Going over into our other bay, I took a fifteen cent toilet kit from the foot locker of one of our guys who had been killed. I still use it. i went downstairs to the 72nd Bomb Sq. supply room. It was deserted and still burning, but in one corner I found a rare pair of 9 ½ EE garrison shoes, which I wore for years. A skull found under a bunk at the end of our bay caused a lot of concern until we learned it belonged to a Hawaiian warrior driven over the Pali by King Kamehameha over a century before. One of our guys had found it among the rocks below the Pali.

During the raid, on the parade ground across from our bay, some men had set up a .50 caliber machine gun where they had a clear shot at the Japs fighters that were strafing Hickam. This crew was quickly killed. On our trip to Hawaii on the transport “Republic” we recruits were under the charge of a “Previous service man” Jack Fox, who we considered to be an Army bum – he spent all his evenings at Hickam in the “Snake Ranch”. When Jack saw the men knocked off the gun on the parade ground, he gathered a few volunteers, ran out, set the gun up again, and died fighting the Japs.

The bombing of the “Snake Ranch” caused a lot of fellows pain. I mourned the burning of my handiwork, the gym/theater.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned what the explosions over toward Ft. Kam that awakened me early that morning really were. Today, in our local Florida Chapter 14 of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Assoc. are two Navy fellows who were aboard the destroyer “Ward” which was patrolling the waters outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor that morning. Shortly after 2345 the night before, the crew of the Ward was called to battle stations because the sonar man heard submarine screws. They lost contact, but several hours later had another. About 0615 there was a radio alert as the aft lookout on the Navy supply ship “Antares” reported a periscope following her as she prepared to enter Pearl Harbor. The Ward prepared to ram. They spotted the conning tower of a Jap two-man sub and fired their Gun No 1, Al Sanford said. ”The red-hot brass casing came flying out to me. I caught it with my asbestos mittens and flipped it over the side. Later, when things calmed down, the crew scrambled around to find the casing of THE FIRST SHOT FIRED BY THE U.S. IN WORLD WAR ll. “When they learned I had thrown this souvenir overboard they threatened to throw me after it”

The Ward sank the sub at 0630, and by 0640 had sent an alert message to Pearl Harbor communications office. Their reply was: “ARE YOU SURE? PLEASE VERIFY.” No alarm was given before the Jap planes hit us an hour – and –twenty- minutes later. Probably hundreds of lives were lost because of this goof.

Our crew’s B-17 had been destroyed during the raid. Since we were to go out searching for the Jap fleet in the morning, we were given one of the B-17’s that had flown in from the States right into the middle of the Jap attack that morning – they had guns on board but no ammunition – we were at PEACE. This plane had squeaked onto a short dirt strip used by pursuit (fighter) planes up on the north end of the island. It was a newer “E” model, so we spent the afternoon checking it out. It had a pair of 50’s on the belly with a weird remote-controlled sight – you found your target in a mirror. That night, our enlisted crew members moved into the quarters of our crew chief, T/Sgt. Joe Anselmi, across the fence from the Marine barracks. It was dark early, so we were asleep by about 9pm when all hell broke louse! The guns firing from the Marine barracks roof sounded like they were on our roof. I rolled under my cot, pulling my mattress over me, and wondered whether the Jap planes were back, or the rumored invasion troops had landed. We had no communications. After awhile things quieted down. It wasn’t until we got back from our patrol the next afternoon, that we learned that a B-18 of the 23rd Bomb that had flown over to the Big Island on Saturday, had tried to land at Hickam after dark. Communications between the Services was unheard of in those days and the Marines figured, if it flew, it was Japanese. There were ten men aboard that little B-18 and they counted more that one hundred bullet holes in its fuselage, yet no one was hit. Our crew again tried to get some rest before our 4am takeoff. Monday 8 Dec.

One of the things I disliked about the military life was that they always thought they had to get up so early in the morning! A 4am takeoff meant getting out of your bunk about 2am. When we lifted off the runway, my memory is that it was still so dark that we couldn’t see the damage at Pearl Harbor clearly – just some fires still burning and many columns of black, oily smoke. It wasn’t till we returned from the flight in daylight that we were shocked with the realization of how badly the Japs had wounded us.


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See the continuation of Jim’s story in our September newsletter “Travelers In Time”. It will be the final chapter of the Bombing of Hickam Field, and Jim’s story of the first few days of World War Two.


Coming Soon!

I have a article by Ralph Kinney Bennett, “PIGGYBACK HERO” sent to me by Jim telling the story of GLEN ROJOHN and his B-17 over Germany, Dec. 31, 1944. Capt Rojohn, recieved the DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS and PURPLE HEART.

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