Union Ridge Church

Monday, December 7, 2020

by Reverend Dan on December 7, 2020

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man would lay down his life for a friend."

                                                                                                John 15:13


Pearl Harbor is the location that was attacked by the Japanese. But in that location, there were men and women just like you and I. They are why we should remember. They are why we should never forget.

Lieutenant Commander Samuel Fuqua served aboard the USS Arizona, a battleship that was heavily bombed during the first wave of the attack. He was having breakfast when the ship’s air raid sirens sounded at 7:55 a.m. Immediately he rushed to the deck, only to be strafed by enemy fire and then knocked out cold when a bomb fell just feet away from him. Fuqua jumped to his feet after regaining consciousness and although still dazed, began directing to fight the many fires. Moments later, he became the Arizona’s senior surviving officer after another bomb detonated the ship’s ammunition magazine, killing more than 1,000 men. As burned and maimed sailors poured onto the deck, Fuqua ignored gunfire from passing aircraft and calmly led efforts to evacuate his sinking ship. “I can still see him standing there,” an Arizona crewman later remembered, “ankle deep in water, stub of a cigar in his mouth, cool and efficient, oblivious to the danger about him.” Fuqua was among the last men to abandon ship. He and two fellow officers then commandeered a boat and braved heavy fire while picking up survivors from the fire-streaked waters. For his actions at Pearl harbor, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Around the same time Arizona was being bombed, the training ship USS Utah was rocked by two torpedoes from Japanese aircraft. The aging vessel soon began to list to one side as water flooded into its hull. Inside the boiler room, Chief Watertender Peter Tomich ordered his crew to abandon ship. After ensuring that his men had escaped their engineering spaces, the World War I veteran returned to his post and singlehandedly secured the boilers, preventing a potential explosion that would have claimed many lives. The ship rolled over and sank just minutes later. Fifty-eight men—Tomich among them—went down with the ship. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Army Air Corps pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor spent the evening before the Pearl Harbor attack attending a formal dance and playing poker until the wee hours of the morning. They were still asleep when they were awakened at 8 a.m. by the sound of exploding bombs and machine gun fire. The men threw on their tuxedo pants and sped to Haleiwa airfield in Taylor’s Buick, dodging strafing Japanese planes along the way. Minutes later, they became the first American pilots to get airborne after they took off in their P-40 fighters. Welch and Taylor went on to wage a battle against hundreds of enemy planes. They even landed at Wheeler airfield at one point and had their ammunition replenished before rejoining the fray. By the time the attack ended, the men had shot down at least six fighters and bombers between them. Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Taylor was given a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound he received when his P-40 was struck by machine gun fire.

Doris Miller’s skin color usually relegated him to the role of cook and laundry attendant aboard USS West Virginia, but when the ship was struck by multiple bombs and torpedoes on December 7, he became one of its most vital crewmembers. Miller rushed to his battle station as soon as the shooting started and finding it destroyed, sprinted to the deck and used his  massive strength to help move the injured. Miller was among the men who carried the ship’s mortally wounded skipper to safety, and he then helped pass ammunition to the crews of two .50 caliber machine guns. 

Despite having no weapons training, he eventually manned one of the weapons himself and began blasting away at the Japanese fighters swarming around the ship. “It wasn’t hard,” he later remembered. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine.” 

Miller continued to operate the gun for some 15 minutes until ordered to abandon ship. His actions earned him the Navy Cross—the first ever presented to an African American. He was reassigned to the escort carrier Liscome Bay, where he was among the 646 crewmen killed when the ship was torpedoed and sunk in 1943.

Chief Petty Officer John Finn was still lying in bed with his wife when Japanese fighter planes descended on his post at the Kaneohe Bay air station some 15 miles from Pearl Harbor. After throwing on clothes and driving to the base, he commandeered a .30 caliber machine gun and dragged it to an open area with a clear view of the sky. For the next two-and-a-half hours, Finn kept up a near-constant rate of fire against the strafing hordes of Zeroes. Finn suffered more than 20 wounds from bullets and shrapnel during the battle. One shot left him with a broken foot; another completely incapacitated his left arm. He received medical aid after the attack ended but returned to duty that same day to assist in arming American planes. Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

George Walters was a dockyard worker – a civilian - who manned a massive rolling crane positioned alongside the dry-docked battleship the USS Pennsylvania. When the yard came under fire during the early stages of the raid, he moved his crane back and forth on its track, effectively shielding Pennsylvania from low flying dive-bombers and fighters. Walters even tried to use the crane’s boom to swat the enemy planes out of the sky. The gunners on Pennsylvania initially considered the dockworker a nuisance, but they soon realized that his 50-foot-high cab gave him an excellent view of incoming aircraft. Using the movements of the crane arm as a guide, they were able to return fire against the enemy to devastating effect. Walters continued until a Japanese bomb exploded on the dock and sent him to the hospital with a concussion. His actions helped save the Pennsylvania from destruction.

The USS Nevada was the only ship from Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row to make a break for the open ocean. Shortly after the battle began, Chief Boatswain Edwin Hill and a small crew braved heavy fire to go ashore and cut the moorings holding the Nevada to the dock at Ford Island. He then dove into the oil-stained water and swam back to his ship to continue the fight. The Nevada ran a gauntlet of enemy fire and tried to steam out of the harbor. The single battleship was an obvious target, however, and after taking repeated hits from Japanese dive-bombers, its captain opted to beach his vessel to avoid bottling up the rest of the fleet. Chief Hill was working to drop anchor when a group Japanese planes rained bombs on the deck, blowing his body off the ship and killing him instantly. Hill was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The USS Nevada, meanwhile, survived Pearl Harbor and went on to participate in the Normandy invasion in 1944.

Phil Rasmussen was one of the handful of American pilots who managed to take to the skies during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Like many others, the second lieutenant was still asleep when his post at Wheeler Field was bombed. He rushed outside and found an undamaged P-36 fighter sitting on the runway. Still clad in a pair of purple pajamas, Rasmussen took off and joined three other pilots in a dogfight against eleven Japanese aircraft. His plane was slower and less maneuverable than the enemy planes, but he quickly managed to shoot one of them down. He then crippled another plane before two Japanese pilots raked his P-36 with machine gun and cannon fire, leaving behind some 500 bullet holes. Another Zero just narrowly missed when it tried to ram him. Rasmussen’s canopy was blown off and he briefly lost control, but he managed to right his damaged plane and make a miraculous landing without brakes, rudders or a tail wheel. The young pilot was awarded a Silver Star for his bravery.


"Father, thank you for the brave men and women of our armed forces who keep us free. Help us to always remember their sacrifice and help us to honor the sacrifice of Your Son in His battle for our freedom from sin.  In Jesus' name, AMEN."


Christmas Bonus:

Songwriter Gloria Shayne Baker wrote "Do You Hear What I Hear?" as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.