As a 20-year Naval Officer, now retired, annual accounts of the infamous December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Naval Station Pearl Harbor occupy a vivid place in my heart and mind.
My parent’s generation lived through the world war that began that gruesome Sunday morning. My father served in World War II, and even knew fellow western Kansas service members who were killed in that opening battle.
Starting 28 years later, I myself experienced several Hawaiian tours of duty, studying the place first hand-- even crewing a fleet exercise at Third Fleet Headquarters on Ford Island, steps away from the carnage of Battleship Row.
Now, 79 years later, only a handful of survivors still live to tell their stories. I would like to briefly tell mine on their behalf. A history teacher now, I cherish my chance acquaintances with two participants who were crew of the battleship USS Nevada.
I met retired Captain Donald K. Ross on December 7, 1982, while an information officer with the Washington State Office of Veterans Affairs, very proudly escorting him in response to a speaker request on Pearl Harbor Day that year. As a warrant officer in 1941, his epic efforts single-handedly brought engines on line while blinded and working in a bomb-struck, smoke-filled main control compartment. The day we met, he arrived replete in Navy uniform, inclusive of the Medal of Honor around his neck—the first awarded in the “Greatest Generation’s” war.
And then-Ensign Joseph K. Taussig, Jr., watch officer whose efforts to rally ship gun crew response to attacking aircraft cost him a leg in the action and gained him the Navy Cross. Retired Captain Taussig—then an Assistant Secretary of the Navy—met with me to be the subject of a Pearl Harbor Day 1990 story I authored for an edition of the US Navy News Service publication edited in my Pentagon Office.
But the rest of the story is the uniquely special part for me. In attendance at the 50th Pearl Harbor Anniversary Symposium December 1991, informed that my promotion to Lieutenant Commander was official, I encountered Secretary Taussig who with Captain Ross gained permission to mount the convention center stage and there conduct my oath-swearing and insignia-pinning before those assembled.
I’m reminded of a recruiting poster that my grandfather may have seen at some point when he left the Kansas family homestead to join the Navy for World War I. It showed a Navy sailor with the words: ”Some read history, join the Navy and make it!” I tell history students that first-person historical encounter is priceless, but next best is second-person narrative from a witness. How lucky for me on Pearl Harbor Day to live that thought.
Lieutenant Commander, Dennis D. Case, US Navy (ret), lives in Lacey.