The ferry slides slowly through Pearl Harbor, and the tourists aboard grow quiet as they approach the white monument, its shape suggesting a ship. Lying just inches beneath it: the rusting hulk of the Arizona, drops of oil still bubbling to the surface.
Seventy-five years ago this morning, it was blown to pieces during an attack that lasted but a few hours but plunged an unprepared America into war.
A few hundred feet away: the Missouri, aboard which the imperial powers of Japan would surrender four years later. The two ships are a political statement about as subtle as a torpedo: Here’s how you started it. Here’s how we ended it.
Inside the Arizona Memorial, a giant wall lists the names of those who died on the ship. Many still lie in its hull, an official military cemetery. They account for most of those killed in Hawaii in what was either a preemptive strike or a sneak attack, depending on what side you were on. Among the names: Ralph Hollis and Claude Rich of West Palm Beach, likely vaporized together as they worked in the radio room.
Back at the visitor’s center, plaques list those who died aboard other ships that morning. Among them: Eugene Lish of Fort Pierce, felled by fumes on the West Virginia.
The attack of Dec. 7, 1941, left 18 of the 92 ships in port sunk or heavily damaged, 188 airplanes destroyed, and 2,403 military personnel and civilians killed.
The dead live on in our memories. The day that lives in infamy is a living memory for a dwindling few. The numbers of eyewitnesses at Pearl Harbor that day 75 years ago shrinks by the day.
Some live, or lived, in our area. Here are their stories.
Ralph “Red” Hollis, a Palm Beach police officer, wrote letter Dec. 1 to his mother in Georgia, “Within a week we will be at war with Japan.” He did not elaborate. The letter arrived after his death. Claude Rich had turned to the military as a way out of poverty. He wrote a friend in November 1941 that he planned to be home on leave for Christmas. It was the last word any friends or relatives ever got from him.
The Arizona took four direct hits from 1,760-pound converted battleship shells. The deadliest struck just about 8:05 a.m. Seconds later 1.7 million pounds of gunpowder ignited. It is believed about 1,000 of the 1,103 deaths on the Arizona occurred at that moment. Ralph Hollis and Claude Rich were in the radio room, about 50 feet from the center of the blast. Relatives and friends believe they were killed instantly. Their bodies never were recovered.
In 2012, the town of Palm Beach would determine that, at the time of his death, Ralph Hollis still was on the payroll. His name was added to the plaque of other officers killed in the line of duty.
And among those roused to service by the Pearl Harbor attack was Claude Rich’s cousin, George Mason. Only 16 on Dec. 7 he had to wait six days until his birthday to join.
“The day I left,” Mason told the Palm Beach Post in December 2014, “I made some comment like, ‘I’ll give them hell.’ “
Gene Lish was good enough on clarinet to get a spot on the Fort Pierce High School band. After he joined the Navy, on his last visit home, he showed off his military band uniform. But his mother had a premonition. “I’ll never see him alive again,” she told Gene’s brother. The West Virginia took seven torpedoes, which broke open fuel compartments. Fumes from the low-grade crude oil filled the lower decks. Gene was among those overpowered. One-hundred-six men died. Newspapers declared Gene the first Floridian killed. He likely was just minutes ahead of Ralph Hollis and Claude Rich.
Ferdinando D’Aularo also cannot tell his story. He was to be part of the Post’s coverage of this year’s Pearl Harbor anniversary. His daughter was arranging the interview last month. But just days before, on Nov. 10, the Palm Beach Shores man died at 93.
“The fighter planes strafed the ground and set most of the planes on fire. My response was, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, these guys are trying to kill us!’ ” he said in a 2011 Palm Beach Post interview for the 70th anniversary
For his obituary last month, The Post said he might be the last survivor in Palm Beach County but put out a plea for more. That brought out Vincent Gunderson and Harold Shore.
“We were 100 percent startled,” Gunderson said of the attack, sitting last month in the living room of his Lake Clarke Shores home.
Gunderson, now 94,was set that morning to finish his application for the Naval Academy; “I never got there,” he said.
The native of Janesville, Wis., northwest of Chicago, had been aboard the light cruiser USS Phoenix. As have so many, Gunderson thought the approaching planes were part of U.S. maneuvers until he saw the Japanese suns on the wings. He said Navy brass had issued warning after warning for weeks, but no one from the top down was ready for the attack.
“Oh for crying out loud. We never got any word to do anything,” he said. “Our ammunition was all below. Our boats were in the davits. Our plane was on the catapult. Our awnings were struck over the main deck.”
The Phoenix was in the mouth of the harbor, away from the targeted Battleship Row. But, Gunderson said, “a lot of smaller ships near us got hit.”
The Phoenix fired its big guns at the approaching planes and got credit for three before it moved out of the harbor. Remarkably, it reported no appreciable damage and no injuries, much less deaths. Gunderson said he and his pals thought they’d defeat Japan in six months. They were wrong.
After the war, Gunderson came to Palm Beach County to work at the furniture store owned by his father and uncle. He later ran his own store and spent 35 years with Rinker Materials. His wife of six decades, Yvonne, died in 2011. He has three children and four grandchildren.
If he went back to Pearl Harbor, what would his emotions be?
“That’s why I don’t want to go back,” he said. Too many memories of men on fire, or being fished out of the water like so much debris.
Harold Shore and Ellie Welch never met before The Palm Beach Post brought them together last month for a joint interview. Harold was a gunner on the U.S. Argonne; its pounding of attacking Japanese planes contributed to Shore’s losing his hearing. “Surprised? I was shocked!” Shore recalled of the attack. Ellie was a 12-year-old living in the Waikiki area with her family. As she returned from church, she recalled, “My neighbor yelled across, ‘turn your radio on. We are being attacked!”
Ellie Welch might be part of the largest group of surviving eyewitnesses: those who were children.
Margaret Krolczyk, now 87, of North Palm Beach, also was 12 that day. Her father, Dr. Paul Spangler, was chief of surgery at the Navy hospital at Pearl Harbor.
“The hospital was right across from Battleship Row,” she said last week. “They were right there!”
Margaret often has told of how her father rushed out of the family home, in a hilly area called “the heights;” we could see the planes flying down the valley toward Pearl Harbor.” She said one Zero crashed on the hospital grounds.
Margaret, along with her mother, two older sisters and a younger brother, cowered under a table in the basement for hours. Her father, overwhelmed with helping the injured — he worked by flashlight — would not get home for days.
In 1950, at the Navy base in Norfolk, Va., Margaret would meet Stanley Krolczyk, now 95, who had been a naval aviator in the South Pacific. He was shot down twice. The couple later married and have five children and eight grandchildren. The couple moved to Palm Beach County in the 1960s.
Delar “Dane” van Sand, who moved to Palm Beach Gardens two years ago from Gloucester, Mass., turned 98 last month. At Pearl Harbor, he was on the battleship USS Nevada. He and his colleagues in the boiler room managed to get under steam during the attack, doing in 13 minutes what usually took up to four hours. But damage had slowed it and it was an easy target for the Zeroes. It ran aground near Ford Island and eventually would be re-floated and return to action. Red escaped injury but 50 of the 1,500 on board died that day He has spent his later years writing down his memories of that day for his family and posterity.
“It stays with you,” he said this week.
The Rev. Margaret Smart, a retired Methodist pastor and hospice chaplain in Pahokee, was just five days past her fifth birthday on the morning of Dec. 7 and living in family quarters at the Army Air Corps’ Hickam Field. Her mom had had a birthday party the night before and her parents were sleeping in.
She was playing with ribbons downstairs when she heard planes. She went to the window and saw smoke; “I was getting ready to tell my daddy his office was on fire,” she recalled last month. She crossed the house, stood on a toilet, and looked out a window to see flames shooting up from ships in the distance at Pearl Harbor. Recalling the Army-Navy football game from the day before, she thought the two services had opened fire on each other.
Her dad stumbled down the stairs, pulling on his uniform. Her mom fainted. A bomb fell into a pond in the complex and didn’t detonate. At Hickam, of the two supervisors ahead of her dad, one was killed and one incapacitated, and suddenly he was in charge of his department.
Later that day, as Margaret and her mother drove across the smashed base, a U.S. bomber flew overheard, startling them. The car stalled and rolled backward into a tree. With no seat belts, Margaret was thrown and suffered a concussion. Decades later, the two traumas still haunt her; she often has spent the anniversary day in bed.
In December 1981, she visited Hickam. Buildings still bore bullet holes from Dec. 7, 1941.
Margaret didn’t know what she’d do for today’s anniversary. She said she might pull out the Bible she’d received later that day in 1941 for perfect attendance in Sunday School. On that Sunday, she said, “of course, there was no Sunday school.”