Remembering Pearl Harbor
A snapshot in history from three current and past Central Oregon residents who lived through the historical Pearl Harbor raid
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, young George Browning was dressed in his “best whites” at Naval Air Station, Ford Island, at the center of Pearl Harbor.
Browning was looking forward to a day of celebration after being at sea.
“I was all gussied up and ready to go,” he explained.
On a day of remembrance of the raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the former principal of Crook County Junior High School and current Eugene resident reflected on the day he became part of that historical moment.
Central Oregon resident John Maloney and Prineville resident Roy Bunting also remember the day with clarity, 71 years later. Although it can’t be documented whether their paths crossed on that fateful day, they all lived through the ordeal at Pearl Harbor.
At approximately 7:55 a.m., Browning said that he heard some planes overhead, and went out to see what was happening.
“One of the men said, ‘The Army is out early,’ but it wasn’t Americans — it was Japanese,” remarked Browning. “Sure enough, they started to peel off and started dive-bombing. We could see the red spots on their wings.”
Japanese dive bombers descended on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on an assault that would become a painful part of American history. The surprise attack that caused devastation to the U.S. Pacific fleet struck a critical blow and drew the United States into World War II.
Browning said that those who survived the attack immediately afterwards were kept busy, and he was helping men who were in the water, as a result of sinking and damaged ships. He noted that the water was thick with oil from the fractured vessels, and had caught on fire. Men were trying to swim through the fire, and Browning was pulling as many swimmers from the water as he could muster.
He also recalled that the raid went on without interruption, and at one point, “The Japanese dropped a bomb down the stack of the Arizona, and it blew the whole ship up. We expected that they would be back, but they didn’t show,” reflected Browning.
Being a man who is known for his sense of humor, Browning, who sought to lighten the somber mood, remarked, “I messed up my good whites. It was not a good day.”
At the naval housing units for the dependents of the Navy officers on that fateful morning, the silence was shattered by the sound of bombs and aircraft. Some residents initially thought it was the Army doing practice drills.
Fifteen-year-old John Maloney, now a current Central Oregon resident, was sound asleep at the time when he was awoken abruptly by the sounds of the raid.
“Finally it dawned on people that something real was happening, because it was too real,” explained Maloney. “Buildings were being blown up and planes were streaming over the housing areas where people lived.”
Maloney’s father was on the naval base on active duty, so his family was moved to a safer location.
He said that prior to that fateful day at Pearl Harbor, there were hints that something ominous was imminent in the near future.
“When you went downtown prior to Dec. 7, there were a lot of gun emplacements being put up in town and around the areas, so somebody was suspecting something was going to happen,” said Maloney.
He said that at age 15, he didn’t really register the significance of it, however.
One of the visuals that is imprinted in his mind is the memory of the Rising Sun insignia on the Japanese dive bombers as they went over his house.
“I could have reached up and touched them, that is what it felt like. That is the most visual thing I can remember—even of all the time that I saw combat in the South Pacific, I remember that more than anything else,” he said somberly.
“It was surreal,” he added.
Roy Bunting, who currently resides in Prineville, was on the destroyer, the USS Waters, just outside of Pearl Harbor when the raid began. He had only been in the Navy since October 1941. He was 20mm gunner, and his perch was at the front of the ship.
“We thought we were just going to do the usual Navy routine,” recollected Bunting. “But it worked out that we were right off of Pearl Harbor — in the ocean of course — at the time it was hit on Dec. 7. We could see the smoke rolling in the sky; it was a very big fire.”
Bunting said that they soon had orders to patrol outside of Pearl Harbor, should there be submarines or further attacks. Approximately four days later, they entered the harbor for the first time after the attack. His ship was assigned to be a communications vessel.
“I was young and innocent and not knowing what war was, but we saw the picture of war when we went into Pearl Harbor.”
Bunting described the scene upon entering into the harbor as full of ships still burning and emitting lots of smoke, and the bay was full of thick oil on the water. There were ships with their bows down in the water, and a lot of commotion throughout the scene.
“There was a lot of damage done everywhere you looked,” he added. “We were prepared to do whatever they wanted us to.”
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless as a result of the raid on Pearl Harbor. In all, five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. There was a total of 2,400 Americans who lost their lives and another 1,200 were wounded.
Japan’s losses consisted of 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers.
After Bunting left Pearl Harbor, he and his ship were embroiled in several missions and raids in the South Pacific.
“I came home at the end of the war and stayed in the service reserve until 1957,” concluded Bunting. “I did my 20 years in the Navy, and a lot of that time was spent in duty at Portland Ore. after I came home.”
Bunting and Browning both received several medals for their time in the Navy, and Browning received a Purple Heart. Maloney joined the service and served combat time in the South Pacific.
“It was a very successful raid,” Browning said with a heavy sigh. “I felt bad for so many who lost their lives.”