Before embarking on a Pearl Harbor tour, it’s a great idea to get some background about the December 7, 1941 attack. First-hand accounts are the best way to get a feel for the events of that fateful day and the war that followed, but the number of Pearl Harbor survivors is dwindling all the time. Fortunately, there are several excellent memoirs that let Pearl Harbor survivors tell their stories in their own words. Here’s a look at some of them.
Trapped at Pearl Harbor: Escape from Battleship Oklahoma
by Stephen Bower Young
USS Oklahoma (BB-37) was one of two battleships damaged beyond repair during the attack on Pearl Harbor. As she started to capsize, crew members were trapped within her hull, trying to survive with limited air. Among those nearly lost within the sinking battleship was Stephen Bower Young, a Seaman First Class who chronicled his experiences in Trapped at Pearl Harbor: Escape from Battleship Oklahoma.)
Young’s account of the hours he spent trapped inside USS Oklahoma is a unique view into what the survivors of the attack went through in the hours after the Japanese torpedoes struck. Trapped at Pearl Harbor details the dread the men felt watching the rising water inside the ship, and the suspense of waiting to be rescued.
If your Pearl Harbor tour includes a stop at the USS Oklahoma Memorial, reading about Young’s experience will bring to vivid life what these sailors went through in their final moments.
All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor
by Donald Stratton
Written by one of the last remaining survivors of the ill-fated USS Arizona (BB-39), Donald Stratton’s account of the Pearl Harbor attack details the horror of being aboard the burning battleship, and the heroic efforts of one man, Joe George, to save him and his shipmates.
Stratton’s eyewitness account paints a frightening picture of the damage done to USS Arizona and pays tribute to the 1,177 sailors who died when the mighty battleship exploded and sank.
A True American: The Story of a Pearl Harbor Survivor, World War II, Korean and Vietnam War Veteran
by Sterling Cale
During the attack on Pearl Harbor, many men rose to the occasion to become heroes to those unable to help themselves. Sterling Cale was one of those men, and his experiences at Pearl Harbor are laid out in his memoir A True American: The Story of a Pearl Harbor Survivor, World War II, Korean and Vietnam War Veteran.
Cale served as a pharmacist’s mate, responsible for dispensing medication to the sailors stationed at Pearl Harbor. As men were forced to abandon their ships in the face of the Japanese assault, Cale joined others who jumped into the oil-slicked and burning waters to aid them. When USS Arizona exploded, he was nearby, pulling sailors, alive and dead, from the water. Cale’s recount of the morning of Pearl Harbor is harrowing and gives a look into how the survivors frantically worked to help their fellow servicemen. His story is one of sacrifice and the American spirit that helped the United States win the War in the Pacific.
Counting My Blessings: The Autobiography of a Native Hawaiian Pearl Harbor Survivor
by Herb Weatherwax
Pearl Harbor survivor Herb Weatherwax chronicles not just his time in the military, but also his life growing up in Honolulu. While readers will get caught up in the events of December 7, 1941 in this detailed autobiography, the native Hawaiian has plenty of stories to tell that make this an engaging reading experience.
Reading about how the attack and World War II affected the islands puts into perspective just how damaging Japan’s actions were. This autobiography, by a man who could often be found later in life chatting with visitors to Pearl Harbor, is a great read for anyone who’s interested in the Hawaii’s culture and learning what it was like living in the island paradise before the war.
Diary of a Pearl Harbor Survivor
by Alfred Benjamin Kameeiamoku Rodrigues
Also born and raised in Hawaii, Rodrigues served at Pearl Harbor and lived through the devastating strike against the United States. Diary of a Pearl Harbor Survivor is exactly that, a personal journal kept during his service in the Pacific. Entries discuss the attack on Pearl Harbor and its effect on Rodrigues and those around him, as well as his experiences as a Chief Petty Officer aboard the battleship USS Washington (BB-56) during World War II.
A uniquely personal look into the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war that followed, the book gives readers an up-close look into the emotional toll of surviving an event like Pearl Harbor. Diary of a Pearl Harbor Survivor isn’t an easy read, but is an essential one for those who want to understand the attack from the perspective of someone who lived through it.
The Other Side of Infamy: My Journey through Pearl Harbor and the World of War
by Jim Downing
Guinness Book of World Record holder for “Oldest Living Male Author” and retired navy lieutenant Jim Downing was an iconic name associated with the Pearl Harbor attack. The Other Side of Infamy is Downing’s account of the attack on Pearl Harbor and his naval service in World War II and beyond.
The book also tells of Downing’s life after the war, his time with The Navigators ministry, and how he found faith in a post-World War II world.
From Pearl Harbor to Calvary
by Mitsuo Fuchida
While these books all have Pearl Harbor survivors tell their stories, this one is a bit different. Mitsuo Fuchida was the lead Japanese pilot in the Pearl Harbor attack, famous to giving the order, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” signalling that the attackers had achieved complete surprise.
In the years after the attack and World War II, Fuchida’s life changed drastically. His autobiography tells of his turn to Christianity and the American who brought religion into the former pilot’s life. From Pearl Harbor to Calvary is a unique look at the events of December 7, 1941 through the eyes of the attacker who led the charge.
As you’re planning your visit to Pearl Harbor, any of these memoirs in which Pearl Harbor survivors tell their stories will enrich the experience.