Harold Shore and Ellie Welch never met. They took circuitous routes through Hawaii, Miami, New York, Arizona, and, finally, Palm Beach County. It took 75 years for their paths to cross, in the backyard of a home, on a gloriously cool, sunny fall day.
On that December morning in Hawaii, way back then, some 10 miles apart on the island of Oahu, each stared into a sky much different than the one over Florida in 2016. One filled with jarring noise and smoke. And strange airplanes with red balls on their wings.
In a matter of hours, life had changed for both. And for a nation. And a world.
“My neighbor yelled across, ‘Turn your radio on. We are being attacked,’” Welch recalled.
“Surprised? I was shocked!” Shore said.
He wasn’t the only one. Before the day was out in Pearl Harbor, much of America’s Pacific fleet was in pieces, or burning, or floating belly-up. Thousands of sailors, soldiers, airmen and civilians lay dead; some of them were Shore’s pals. And a nation, which for years had slept with the confidence that seas on both sides would protect it, now looked down a dark tunnel that stretched from Tokyo to Berlin, but seemed to go on forever.
Shore and Welch met last month at the Hypoluxo home of Phyllis Bymaster, who lives across the street from Welch. A freelance writer, she’s working on her neighbor’s memoir.
Age, as it it is prone to do, has been both kind and unkind to the two. Shore, who lives west of Boca Raton with Florence, his wife of seven decades, will be 92 in January. He and Florence both use walkers and his hearing is all but shot. Some of that came from the pounding guns he and his buddies manned that Sunday morning aboard the USS Argonne, aiming heavy artillery at Japanese Zeroes as they buzzed the harbor like so many raptors. The ear damage earned him a Purple Heart.
Welch, now 87, works a cane; she was set for knee surgery a few days after she and Shore sat down on a Monday morning last month.
Both have sharp memories of Dec. 7, 1941. Some things you don’t forget.
Eleanor Cardoza, all of 12½, was one of many ethnic Portuguese-Spaniards whose parents had come to Hawaii. Her father was a dockworker. Ellie was the oldest of five. The family lived near Waikiki, on the east side of Oahu.
“We were coming home from church,” Welch now recalled, her eyes looking upward as she envisioned the long-ago images. “We looked up into the sky and saw nothing but smoke.”
At first, Welch presumed it was U.S. military maneuvers she’d seen many times. It wasn’t. Then people said it was either Germany or Japan attacking. When they saw the red circles, symbols of the rising sun, they knew.
“Oh my God,” Welch said. “It was scary. Very scary.”
Shore was a month from his 17th birthday and stationed on the Argonne, a 21-year-old. 448-foot ship docked at Pier 1010, a 1,000-plus-foot-long dry dock. Some of the most dramatic footage of the attack was filmed by a sailor aboard the Argonne.
“I went to my station, which was an anti aircraft (gun),” Shore said. “I saw all kinds of ships get bombed.”
The Argonne’s .50-caliber guns fired nearly 4,000 rounds; “all kinds of planes,” Shore said. “I think we hit them.”
Later, he said, “I was ordered to go down in the water and help get guys out of the water. Which I did. And pulled them up on the pier.” He also said a Japanese pilot was fished out of the water and locked in a back room.
On that December day, Shore said, “I lost two good friends. Very close friends.” Tears filled his eyes; tears even the passage of 75 years could not assuage. “And I don’t wish to talk about it.”
On the afternoon of Dec. 7, “we went out to look at the damage,” Welch said. “There was a strip mall we’d gone to the night before. It was demolished.”
Welch was a year out of a nearby elementary school. A bomb destroyed its second floor. Had the attack come on a weekday, a younger brother, 11, would have been in class there.
For days after the attack, people on the island wore gas masks and practiced fleeing to bomb shelters, convinced the Japanese would be back to invade the island and finish what they’d started on Dec. 7. Eventually, Welch said, authorities decided that wasn’t happening.
In August 1945, with the war in its last days, she fell for a Florida boy. She was a 16-year-old waitress at a Honolulu café when she met 20-year-old Kenneth Welch of Winter Haven, near Orlando. His mother had lied about his age and he’d gone to fight at 15, an age when skipping school was for most boys their greatest adventure. Kenneth later would forge passes to get off his base and spend time with Ellie.
Kenneth got out in March 1947 and the couple married 10 months later. In October 1948, they flew to a new life in Miami. Kenneth would spend decades as a contractor in South Florida and the Treasure and Space coasts. Ellie was a homemaker and later a secretary.
The Welches were in West Palm Beach from 1971 to 1993, then spent a decade in Arizona, where a son was in the military, before returning to Palm Beach County. Kenneth Welch died in December 2004. Ellie has four children and 11 grandchildren. Of her four siblings, only a sister remains.
Shore would spend decades as a New York cop, and later was an office worker for General Mills. Shore and wife Florence moved in 1980 from Rockland County, N.Y., to South Florida. They’ve been at their retirement home west of Boca Raton for six years. They have two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
On this November day in 2016, on their way out, both Florence Shore and Welch told a reporter they were honored to have been, at least for this article, the living faces of history.
“That is a day in history that should never be forgotten,” Welch said. “A lot of servicemen were killed.”
And, she said, every generation “should really appreciate our country. And all the sacrifice that was made by our military.”
PEARL HARBOR 75TH ANNIVERSARY
Read the Palm Beach Post and www.palmbeachpost.com Wednesday and Thursday for coverage of both local and world commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
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