In American military history there are few dates more familiar than “December 7th, 1941… a date which will live in infamy…”
The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on that serene Sunday morning marked America’s official entry into a global war that had been raging in Europe and throughout Asia for many years. Yet after the raid had ended, the wounded treated, and the dead counted, there remained pockets of hope that all was not lost that day.
On Ford Island, just across from battleship row, ten Sikorsky JRS-1 Flying Boats (Amphibians) had escaped any serious damage from the multi-wave attack. Early the following morning, around 3:00 am Pearl Harbor time on December 8, Navy JRS-1 crews took to the air in search of the Japanese fleet. The Sikorsky JRS-1, a utility and transport aircraft, was not armed…normally. But that morning, the crew along with several rifle-armed passengers were assigned to not only conduct search and rescue missions, but also search and destroy any Japanese ships that they encountered.
Last June, one of those veteran JRS-1 crewmen visited us at the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar and was reunited with the very plane that he had flown as a radioman in those days following the attack. Lt. Cmdr. Harvey Waldron, USN (ret.), recounted the events during a three-hour oral history interview accomplished in the shadow of his old Sikorsky friend.
As he viewed the fuselage of the craft for the first time in nearly six decades, he could not contain the tears, the smiles, and then the joy of being reunited with an object that had been his defender and his home away from home all those many years ago.
Waldron and other Pearl Harbor veterans will return to Hawaii this week to participate in what may be the final reunion of Pearl survivors. Each will visit their exact duty location on that Sunday. Waldron was at Hangar 37 during a shift change when the Japanese first wave struck.
On this day, we remember those who perished that Sunday morning, now 70 years ago. We also remember the 16 million more who served and fought during the next four years with bravery, courage, and heroism to help put an end to tyranny around the globe. Veterans like Lt. Cmdr. Harvey Waldron are rare indeed.
To all those veterans of World War II and their families, thank you for your dedicated service!
Do you have any Pearl Harbor stories? Feel free to share them with us.
Dik Daso is the curator of modern military aircraft in the Aeronautics Division of the National Air and Space Museum.