I first heard this story first hand some 50 years ago. It's time to pass it on. It's my father-in-law's story. He was an honorable person, a hard worker who supported his family well, and was in the military or civil service most of his life. He first joined the military in time to fight in WWI. He'd been a pilot, but by the time of Pearl Harbor, he worked as an aircraft mechanic. He was later involved in the Korean War. He never talked about any of these wars.
He did have drinking problem, but most the time he didn't let it get the best of him. (His wife was enough to drive anyone to drink.) I happened to be around on a lazy Saturday afternoon when he'd been drinking. He started talking about Pearl Harbor and what happened from his point of view. I mostly listened and said just enough to keep him talking. Here is his story:
The Japs attacked early on Sunday morning December 7, 1941. Most people were still asleep or off the base at the time. My father-in-law was there at Hickam Field when the attack started. There was massive destruction, fires everywhere, most ships were on fire or sinking. There was nothing to stop the Japs from coming on in and taking the base and the fuel dumps. All the airplanes were sitting ducks on the runways or in the hangers just waiting to be destroyed.
Rather than just watching, he took action. All pilots were called in to duty, but many were killed or didn't arrive soon enough. He got anyone who could fly into the nearest airplane. When there weren't enough pilots, he tied down the controls and sent the airplanes into the air. They would have been destroyed just sitting there, so it didn't matter that they would be lost in the air. The Japs thought there was a counterattack and didn't try to land. Or perhaps actions taken by others had something to do with that also.
He went on to show me his medals and commendations, and I read as much of them as I could before he put them away. He never showed these again to my knowledge. He never talked about it.
In the aftermath, he saw many badly burned people, more than anyone should ever see. He also saw how long it took some of them to die. Many of these were people he knew.
Some five or six years after he talked and showed me the medals and commendations, his own daughter was in a single car rollover and fire. She was badly burned, and the doctors said she didn't have much of a chance. I was taking care of her children while her husband was stuck in the hospital with burns on his hands and arms from trying to beat the flames out to save his wife.
My father-in-law came down to see her in the hospital, and stayed a few days. He said, "I wouldn't give a nickel for her chances." He kept his wife from coming down. It took her 10 days to die.
I went to see her daily for most of the first week to tell her how the kids were, and to communicate about their care and what they were used to. I won't describe the day to day changes I saw. I couldn't handle it any longer than I did. Imagine someone seeing hundreds of burn cases and then having to watch their own daughter die that way.
PS: My uncle was on one of the ships and survived, but he never talked about it.