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101-year-old returns to Pearl Harbor to remember ‘the day that will live in disgrace’

HONOLULU (AP) – As Japanese bombs began to fall on Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy Class 1 David Russell first sought refuge beneath the deck of the USS Oklahoma.

But a snap decision on a December morning 80 years ago changed his mind, and potentially saved his life.

“They started closing that hatch. And I decided to get out of there,” Russell, now 101, said in a recent interview.

Within 12 minutes, his battleship would capsize under a barrage of torpedoes. A total of 429 sailors and marines from Oklahoma would perish – the largest death toll for any ship that day other than the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 men.

Russell was due to return to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday to conduct a ceremony to remember the more than 2,300 American soldiers killed in the December 7, 1941 attack that brought the United States into World War II.

About 30 survivors and 100 other veterans from the war are expected to observe a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the attack began.

The survivors, now in their late 90s or older, stayed home last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and instead watched a live stream of the event.

Russell is traveling to Hawaii with The Best Defense Organization, a nonprofit organization founded by former NFL Linebacker Donnie Edwards to help World War II veterans revisit their old battlefields.

He recalled being on top when the attack began because he had been trained in how to load anti-aircraft guns and thought he could help if any of the other loader got hurt.

But Japanese torpedo planes dropped a barrage of underwater missiles at Oklahoma before he could get there. Within 12 minutes, the battleship capsized.

“Those damned torpedoes, they keep hitting us and keep hitting us. I think they will never stop,” said Russell. “That ship is dancing around.”

Russell climbed back and forth around the overturned lockers as the battleship slowly rolled.

“You have to go sideways,” he said.

Once he reached the main deck, he crept over the side of the ship and observed the USS Maryland moored beside it. He doesn’t want to swim because the leaking oil is burning in the water. When he jumped, he caught a rope hanging from the Maryland ship and escaped unhurt.

Later, he helped deliver ammunition to Maryland’s anti-aircraft guns.

After the battle, Russell and two others went to Ford Island, next to where the battleships were moored, to find the bathroom. A medical station and military quarters there had been turned into a treatment center and shelter for hundreds of the wounded, and they found sailors horribly burned along the walls. Many will die in the next few hours and days.

“Most of them wanted a cigarette, and I didn’t smoke at the time but I, uh, I had a pack of cigarettes and some matches, and I lit them,” Russell said. “You have feelings for those people, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Just light them up and let them smoke. ”

Russell still thinks about how lucky he was. He pondered why he decided to go to the top of Oklahoma, knowing that most of the men who stayed were likely unable to get out after the hatch closed.

During the first two days after the bombing, a civilian crew from the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard rescued 32 men trapped inside Oklahoma by cutting holes in the hull. But many others died. Most of the dead are buried in unnamed Honolulu graves marked “unknown” because their remains have deteriorated too much to be identifiable by the time they were removed from the ship. 1942 to 1944.

In 2015, the Defense Accounting Agency POW/MIA exhumed 388 of these remains in the hope of identifying them with the help of DNA technology and dental profiling. They succeeded with 361.

Russell’s brother-in-law was also among them. First grade firefighter Walter “Boone” Rogers was in the fire room where the torpedo was struck, Russell said. The military identified his remains in 2017 and he was reburied at Arlington National Cemetery.

Russell remained in the Navy until his retirement in 1960. He served on Air Force bases for the next two decades and retired in 1980.

His wife, Violet, passed away 22 years ago and he now lives alone in Albany, Oregon. He drove himself to the grocery store and local American Legion headquarters in a black Ford Explorer while listening to polka music at full volume. When he’s not hanging out with other veterans of the corps, he reads military history and watches TV. He keeps a stack of 500 puzzles to keep his mind sharp.

For decades, Russell didn’t share much about his experience during the Second World War because no one seemed to care. But the images from Pearl Harbor still haunt him, especially at night.

“When I was at the VA hospital in San Francisco, they said, ‘We want you to talk about World War II.’ And I said, I told them, I said, ‘When we talk about it, people don’t believe us. They just left. ‘ So now people want to know more about it so we’re trying to talk about it. We’re trying to talk about it, and we’re just telling them what we’ve seen,” he said. “You can’t forget it.”

https://www.kxan.com/news/101-year-old-returns-to-pearl-harbor-to-remember-those-lost/ 101-year-old returns to Pearl Harbor to remember ‘the day that will live in disgrace’

DUSTIN JONES

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