When I drove disabled veterans for the local VA hospital in Tucson, one of my first regular patients was an elderly man who made daily trips from the VA hospice to the university hospital for radiation oncology treatments. One day he pointed out several areas of skin cancer on his arms, neck, and face, then touched another dark spot on his arm and said, “This one isn’t cancer, though. It’s from the attack.”
“What attack was that?” I asked.
“Pearl,” he said.
On December 7, 1941, he was a 17-year-old Marine medic, setting up a tent hospital on the side of the mountain in Aiea. Fifty some years later I would live on the same mountain, where I could sit on my terrace and look down on Pearl Harbor, Ford Island, the Arizona Memorial, and Hickam Field. He and his buddies saw the first wave of Japanese aircraft pass over and begin bombing the bases below. They grabbed whatever supplies they could, scrambled into their trucks and ambulances, and rushed down to provide medical assistance. At some point a piece of shrapnel went through his arm and he himself became a casualty.
Over the next two months I got to know the old man pretty well. We mostly talked dachshunds. I’d just gotten Schatzi and was absolutely besotten with her, and he was a dachshund lover too. He particularly liked to talk about his last companion, Gretchen, who drove across the USA with him several times, sitting on his shoulders between the back of his neck and the driver’s seat. When Schatzi got a little older, she started doing the same thing, and that’s her favorite riding position today. I think of my old Pearl Harbor survivor every time Schatzi curls around my neck.
He’s gone now, as are almost all of them, the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. I’m fortunate to have met him, and I think of him often. As I’m thinking of all the men and women who were there, 67 years ago today.
© 2008, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.