Nebraska’s Pearl Harbor survivors recount their memories of Dec. 7, 1941
Ed Guthrie, 98, Omaha
In the war: Was a 23-year-old Navy electrician’s mate 2nd class on the USS Whitney, a destroyer tender. He enlisted in 1940 and had been in Hawaii about a year. After Pearl Harbor he was assigned to the USS Banner, an attack transport. After his discharge in 1946 he returned to Omaha and eventually worked for the Omaha Public Power District until retiring.
In his words: “We were anchored in the harbor and had destroyers on both sides of us. We had three or four on one side and about eight more on the other side, all tied up in little nests.
“I had free time and was getting ready for church. I was up on deck and saw the whole show. They were flying so low you could see the smiles on their faces and their white scarves.
“You could feel the explosion from the Arizona all over the harbor. It was a very lucky hit for a bomb to go down the stack and into the explosives section. It was something you couldn’t believe. The water was black with diesel fuel. People in the water came out like they were coated in tar.
“It was chaos. Nobody knew what to do. Afterward I was assigned to a boat, and we spent four days picking wounded, dead and whatever out of the water. It was a mess, but we came out of it.”
Howard Linn, 95, Omaha
In the war: Was a petty officer first class on the battleship Nevada when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The Arizona was 200 or 300 feet away at the time, and pieces of it came through the portholes of the Nevada. No one around Linn on the lower decks was hit, but every man topside was killed. After the attack, his commanding officer asked how everyone was doing.
In his words: “I said I was doing fine but was concerned about my dad, as he was working in the fire room on a carrier. He had enlisted in the Navy after serving in World War I in the Army. In the meantime, the officer made arrangements for my dad to come back to my ship and bunk with me until five or six weeks later. He then got him a job driving a car for an admiral. For the rest of the war, he said, at 42 he should never have been able to enlist again.”
Melvin Kennedy, 93, Grand Island
In the war: Native of Cedar Rapids, Nebraska, joined the Navy in April 1940. Part of a small-boat crew that worked to rescue survivors in the water after the Pearl Harbor attack. A few weeks later assigned to the USS Clark, a destroyer on escort duty in the Pacific for much of 1942. Left Navy in 1946, worked as farmer and mechanic. Raised 10 children with his wife, Bernita.
In his words: (As told to NBC Nebraska — Hastings/Kearney/Grand Island) “I was in the Liberty boat, taking kids to shore. All of a sudden, here come the Japanese. I was scared to death. … I’m in a 40-foot motor launch. There’s hundreds of guys in that (oil-covered water), and most of them is going to die. Some you could get out, and some you couldn’t.”
Bob Winslow, 95, Beatrice
In the war: Had played high school football in his native Wymore; left in 1939 after his junior year to join the Navy. Was assigned to the destroyer USS Helm, the only ship at Pearl Harbor that was underway in the harbor when the attack commenced. It managed to shoot down one Japanese aircraft. Earned Asiatic Pacific Service Medal with four battle stars. In about 1944, Winslow transferred to the USS Orvetta, a barracks ship, as a master-at-arms. He left the Navy in 1946 and worked at container cargo ports in the San Francisco Bay Area until retiring in 1981. He moved to Beatrice in 2001 to be near family after the death of his wife, Angelina.
In his words: “We were up at 6 or 7 in the morning. We shoved off, we were going to dry dock. They sounded general quarters. My general quarters (position) was a machine gun on the second deck. They were all full of grease. I took it down off the peg, opened it up and started getting the grease off. We looked out. Ford Island was all blown to hell. The (Japanese) plane came after us. He made a run for us to drop a bomb. The skipper just turned the ship and went another way. The Lord was with us, that’s all.”
Walter Barsell, 96, Wahoo
In the war: Joined the Navy in 1939 after graduating from Omaha Benson High School. First assigned to cruiser USS Astoria but left crew for shore duty a few days before the Pearl Harbor attack. (Astoria was sunk in August 1942 in battle of Savo Island, with loss of 219 sailors.) Remained assigned to Pearl Harbor for two years as electrician’s mate 1st class, installing sonobuoys and magnetic cable. Later participated in battle for Okinawa, 1945. Returned to Nebraska after the war and spent career as store manager with Hinky Dinky grocery chain in Omaha, David City, Wahoo. Called up as reservist to serve in Korean War. Longtime member of Pearl Harbor survivors group.
In his words: “I was in the barracks writing a letter home. I heard all the commotion outside. There were airplanes going over. I could see Ford Island and Battleship Row. There was a natural channel, and the Japanese could drop torpedoes in there. We could look out our window at Hickam Field. All the planes were lined up.
“There was all kinds of noise and confusion. We just couldn’t imagine what was going on. We were told to leave the barracks, because we didn’t have any weapons. We ran across the street to a pineapple field. We were on a hill; you could look down on the harbor and see all the action. It was unbelievable.
“There’s the sight and sound of the event, but there’s also the aroma. An hour before the attack, you could smell the gardenias in the air. After the attack, the aroma changed to burning oil and gasoline.”
Lawrence Osterbuhr, 96, Hildreth
In the war: After growing up on a farm near Hildreth, Osterbuhr joined the Coast Guard. He was serving aboard the CGC Kukui, a 190-foot buoy tender anchored in Honolulu Harbor, at the time of the attack, then was transferred to St. Louis for duty on the Mississippi River. There he met his wife, Connie. They married in April 1945 and later returned to his home in Hildreth to farm after he finished his Coast Guard service in the Philippines. They were married for more than 70 years.
In his words: “I was on deck, enjoying the sun. We saw the smoke from Pearl Harbor and heard the sirens from the city of Honolulu. We started loading ammo and .30-caliber machine guns. While we prepared the ship, high-level Japanese planes flew over, and the nearest bomb fell across the street from us. We could hear the whistling sound of the bomb dropping before it hit.
“Later another group of Japanese planes flew over, but because of the heavy gunfire, they flew out to sea. Shortly before noon, we went out to sea. We worked all night putting out buoy lights on Molokai and Maui because of the blackout. All through the day and into the night, thousands of American gunners waited tensely for any sign of another attack.”