Monday, December 7, 2015

Rearview: From Independence (Mo.) to Kaneohe Bay

Editor’s note: We’re looking “in our rearview” to bring you some of our favorite stories, columns and items from Land Line’s 40-year-history. In honor of the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we’re sharing a piece from Dec. 7, 2010, by Editor-in-Chief Sandi Soendker, whose father was a Navy veteran and among those dispatched to Hawaii following the attack. 

The day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, my dad was a 19-year-old air combat crewman in the U.S. Navy, stationed in San Diego. He had enlisted in May 1941 and was in training as a bombardier. On Dec. 7, 1941, the training ended. The real deal was on.

Dad grew up in Independence, Mo., a town that has gotten plenty of national attention, thanks to Harry S. Truman. Harry would, of course, become vice-president for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then president when FDR died in April 1945. But that’s another war story.

The boy from Independence soon found himself on the way to Kaneohe Bay, on the east coast of Oahu. Kaneohe was the site of a major Navy patrol seaplane base and home to three Patrol Squadrons. Dad was a bombardier for Patrol Squadron 102.

His attachment to the squadron ran deep. He told us how Kaneohe had been heavily damaged when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Dad said dozens of PBYs were on the ground (or in the water just offshore) when the Japanese planes came. The raid destroyed most of them.

Paging through my dad’s Navy Aviator Flight Log Book, it’s easy for me to imagine him in a PBY flying low over the waves – eyes peeled for the enemy, ready for action.

I am looking at his scribbled entry for Dec. 7, 1943, two years after the “day that would live in infamy.”

Type of machine: PB2Y3
Duration of flight: 11.0 hours
Character of flight: “J” (that meant scout-patrol-escort)
Pilot: Lt. Commander Curtis
Passengers: self

On Christmas day, 1943, he logged 12 hours in a PB2Y3, again a scout flight, with a pilot listed as Lt. Harris. By that time, Newton Myers was a 21-year-old battle-seasoned veteran.

A year later he was honorably discharged, having been a casualty of a hangar fire that left him hospitalized for more than a year in the South Pacific, and many more months at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.

He was discharged on Dec. 7, 1944.

The first time I saw his logbook was when I was 19. I was a college freshman and came home on Dec. 7, for the weekend. I was mad at Dad for not giving me keys to the car to go to McDonald’s. My mom got my attention when she took me aside and showed me a flight logbook.

“Here you are, whining over car keys, worried about where your next French fry is going to come from. When your dad was about your age, here’s what he was doing on Dec. 7.”

From that day forward, all she had to do was wave the little brown book at me.

Dad died in 1994. He left his flight logbook to me.

Each year on Dec. 7, I look at it. I handle it, page through it, imagine how it was. It’s never failed, in a deeply sobering way, to get my undivided respect.