Historic Moment: The Pearl Harbor Story
By Beth Batlle
Skaneateles Town Historian
On Dec. 7, 1941 at 6 a.m., or 0600 for you military people Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s ace pilot, seated himself in his plane, taxied down the flight deck of his carrier and took off into the quiet of the early morning sky. A squadron of 360 Japanese fighter planes and bombers, all carrying the emblem of the Rising Sun, followed him. Ahead of them was Pearl Harbor where eight American warships, the main force of the American Pacific Fleet, were anchored.
As the U.S. Naval Base on the island of Hawaii came into sight, Chief Commander Fuchida, his heart filled with hate for Americans, gave the order “Whole squadron, plunge into attack!” They quickly obeyed in two waves from six aircraft carriers.
Over the next two hours this surprise attack by the Japanese killed 2,330 Americans and wounded 1,145. Of the eight of the battleships anchored there 6 were severely damaged, and 4 were sunk. Fuchida himself sank the battleship, the USS Maryland. Three cruisers and three destroyers were also crippled. In addition, 394 aircraft based there were damaged or destroyed. It took less than two hours for the Japanese planes to severely cripple the Pacific striking force.
Fuchida was the first man over the target and the last to leave. Seven of his commanders and 32 squadron leaders were not as lucky and 29 planes were lost Fudhida, however, became a national hero in Japan and was even granted an audience with Emperor Herohito. Fortunately for America, however, six aircraft carriers were at sea and escaped the attack.
Fuchida, however, went on to have many other brushes with death, including six crashes at sea. Finally, after 25 years of service in the Japanese Navy, he retired and became a farmer. One day he picked up a religious pamphlet written by an American Air Force pilot who had been held a prisoner of war by the Japanese. So impressed was Fuchida by this man’s faith, that he converted to Christianity. In 1954 he came to this country and, with tears in his eyes, asked the American people to forgive him for his part in the war.
On the opposite side of the world, Skaneateles native, Eugene Horle, in 1924 saw an airplane flying over the city of Syracuse. He located the pilot and his plane the next day, in a hayfield south of the city. Pulling $5 from his wallet, he persuaded the man to give him his first airplane ride. After that he was hooked; he had “flying fever.”
It wasn’t long before he located a World War I Curtiss “Jenny” and convinced the pilot to sell the airplane to him for $750. This included lessons. Before long, he was barnstorming, taking on thrill-seeking passengers, giving flying lessons and earning some money along the way.
He bought a second “Jenny” for $400. This plane had the standard instruments but no compass aboard. The plane, with its 44-foot wingspread, was easy to take off and land, but its engine was only 90 horsepower, so it was a slow climber. Air speed was 70 mph. The pilot flew by the seat of his pants, hoping, if an emergency occurred, for a level place to land.
Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, news of Fuchida’s attack, along with a telegram, arrived from Washington. The telegram said, “All airplanes and pilots grounded; Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor, contact Civil Aeronautics Authority inspector.”
Eugene lost no time in enlisting in the Civil Aviation Authority in Syracuse. He was assigned to take cadets on orientation flights, show them how to spot and track missions, and to fly in formation. Another assignment was to give free flights to those who purchased a war savings bond.
But these war activities took their toll on Eugene. When it was all over, Eugene had a heart attack that grounded him. The doctor called for an ambulance, however none was available. The village undertaker was called upon. He backed his hearse up to the front door, Eugene was loaded into the back, which he complained smelled of embalming fluid, and was taken to the hospital.
The doctor gave him a year to live, but Eugene knew better. After he recuperated, he and his wife, Lillian, sold their home in Skaneateles and bought a travel trailer. They traveled from coast to coast, spending many winters in Florida. Eugene was happy to give talks and show pictures to groups about early aviation.
It was in Tampa, Florida, that Eugene met Captain Fuchida. The two formed a lasting friendship. What did they have in common? Both were pilots and both shared a love of flying. Their friendship lasted for many years until Fuchida died in 1976. Eugene died 3 years later on Dec. 20, 1979 at the age of 82.
The Pearl Harbor Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in May1962 in honor of the 1,177 sailors and Marines that were killed on the USS Arizona. It straddles the sunken hulk of the Arizona without touching it and can only be reached by boat. Oil that still leaks from the sunken ship is sometimes referred to as the “black tears of the Arizona.” The Arizona was the only one of the 4 sunken battleships that was not raised.
A National Historic Monument, this memorial is still an active military cemetery. All personnel on every Navy, Coast Guard, or Merchant Marine vessel that enters the harbor stand at attention at the ships rails and salute the Arizona as they pass by. This is the 76th anniversary of the bombing.
Note: On April 18, 1942, Sgt. Jacob De Shazer, eager to strike back at the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, was flying his B-25 bomber named the “Bat Out of Hell” on a raid over Japan. He dropped his bombs on Nagoya and was eager to return to his home base. That was when he found he was in trouble. He had lost his way in a heavy fog and his plane had run out of fuel. He and his crew had no choice but to bail out.
Jacob was captured and taken to a POW camp where he was tortured by the Japanese and threatened with death. During the almost two years of imprisonment he suffered hunger, cold, and dysentery. He hated his captors and treated the guards with contempt. Then one day a guard handed him a Bible. Jacob started reading and his attitude toward his captors changed. After the war he became a missionary, and went back to Japan. One of his converts was Mitsuo Fuchida.