MONTVILLE, NJ – When veteran and former educator James Kane saw an older gentleman wearing a cap that said “Pearl Harbor Survivor” while traveling in the Balkans, he had to meet him and hear his story.
The fellow veteran told Kane he was aboard the Nevada, whose engines had been firing since midnight the night before because of a command given by a tipsy officer who had had one too many mai tais while on shore leave.
“Normally it would have taken four hours to ready a ship to leave, he told me,” Kane said, “but since the boilers had been working all night, when the Japanese attacked, the ship was able to get underway.”
Kane told the gentleman’s story to a crowd of about 50 at the Montville Township Public Library on Nov. 30.
Unfortunately the Nevada suffered damages and was beached. The veteran went above deck at about 11 a.m., approximately an hour after the attack ended, and told Kane he remembered seeing nothing but smoke and flames everywhere.
“What he remembered most of all, and this stays with me forever, were the white sailor hats, bobbing in the water,” Kane said. “He looked out there and saw one hundred or more, and knew that every guy who had worn one was gone.”
Kane asked the veteran about the 600 unidentified victims buried in a common grave that Kane had paid his respects to. The gentleman explained that the soldiers had not been wearing dog tags because it was peacetime. The attack was completely unexpected.
Kane described the elite Japanese fighting forces that set sail at the end of November, 1941, shortly after unsuspecting Americans had celebrated Thanksgiving with turkey and hometown football games. He explained that Japanese Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was opposed to the attack. Yamamoto had studied at Harvard and was a military attaché in Washington, D.C. Therefore, he had a sense of Americans and their thinking, Kane said.
Kane described the precision with which Yamamoto planned the attack – right down to the fact that the refueling would result in soldiers being washed overboard; that the American soldiers would be resting early on a Sunday morning, and Yamamoto hired a cruise ship to navigate a practice run of the route, going so far as to dock in the port at Oahu and discharge spies.
“The spies reported that the depth of the harbor was too shallow for their torpedoes, so they had to be altered for the depth,” Kane said. “It was a very precise operation.”
Kane described the day, and the destruction left behind.
“It was a tactical success, but it had strategic errors, and Yamamoto knew it,” Kane said.
Kane listed the errors as the submarine base, dry dock facility and oil farms remaining after the attack.
He also said the Japanese misread the will of the American people.
“We felt fear initially, but then anger, rage, and then we wanted revenge,” Kane said.
The Montville VFW Post #5481 will be hosting its annual Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremony at 11:00 a.m. today at the Community Park Youth Center, which is the brown building behind the VFW post.
The public is invited.
For more information about the Montville Township Public Library’s lectures, concerts and programs for teens, adults and children, click HERE.