Monday, December 7, 2015

Grandpa, Daniel Autrey Hanners, Hero at Pearl Harbor

Today is the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. We have our own Pearl Harbor Survivor, so I thought it only right to put up the story, that grandpa, Daniel Autrey Hanners, helped me to write, about his part in it.

For many years I had heard grandpa mention that he had been at Pearl, but he would never say exactly what he was doing, or where he was, during the attack. In the final years of his life, I finally got to sit down and really talk to him about it. I told him how important it was for the family to know his part in it, as a witness and a survivor.
By this time grandpa was pretty much bed ridden, and couldn't talk at great length, but together we wrote his story, he only making me promise that I wouldn't publish it, until after he was gone, because he didn't want to be accused of bragging. He hated those men that used their supposed status as a war hero, to make a career for themselves, or inflate their own importance. He believed in hard work being its own reward, and never wanted to be counted among what he called, "The braggarts!"

To give you the proper background, Grandpa Hanners joined the Navy in 1939, and was sent when his training ended in Chicago, out to the Bremerton Navy Shipyards in Washington state, to join up with the USS Ramsay DM 16, a destroyer mine layer that was stationed out of Port Angeles. It did anti-submarine duty, guarding the West Coast, from Bremerton to Astoria, Oregon.

By the spring of 1940 he had moved up the ranks from Apprentice Seaman, to Ships Fitter 3rd Class, and his ship was now stationed at Pearl Harbor, in the sunny South Pacific. Grandpa was a go getter, and he was forever looking for ways he could improve his career. He was well liked by his captain, and the crew of his ship, for he was cheerful and very good at his work. It didn't hurt that he stood six feet in his sox and was handsome to boot.

Here is a picture of Grandpa, taken right around the time of the attack. This is the uniform he wore when on shore patrol duty.

This is the type of vehicle he drove as a shore patrolman, tho in much better condition of course. He called it his, "Paddy Wagon."

The day before the attack, grandpa had finished his studies, as a Police Officer, with the Honolulu Police Department. He was supposed to become a liaison officer between the Navy and the Police. Here is his certificate of graduation. On the 7th he was supposed to have his graduation ceremony, of course it did not happen, for the attack came instead.

Here is his notification of his certificate, when it was sent to his ship, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Here is his commendation for taking the education courses, on his own time.
This is the belt Grandpa wore, which was part of his Shore Patrolman's uniform, that survived the attack. All other parts of his uniform had to be burned, for they were too polluted to keep.

This is  the USS West Virginia on Battleship Row, with other ships burning too. Notice the open whale boat, on the right. This was the exact type of boat Grandpa took out into the harbor.

This is an enlargement of that same picture. The men in the Navy photo are not identified, but it could very well have been Grandpa and the other sailor he mentioned.

This is Grandpa's story as told to me, January 11, 2006

The morning of the 7th broke warm and bright and I awoke with joy. A part of me could still not quite believe it. I had finally completed the University of Hawaii, Honolulu Police Departments, Police Training Course. I had received the permission and recommendation from my Navy Captain, to take this course, but had done it on my own time. That morning nothing in the world could have made me happier. I had proved to myself that I was capable of anything I set my mind too. I was no longer just that poor stupid farm boy from southern Missouri. It was the proudest day of my life, and as I prepared to go to work, I knew that, that afternoons graduation ceremony, would take me one step closer to reaching my goal, of rising as high as I could up the ranks of the U.S. Navy.  
At the time that I began my studies at the University of Hawaii, I was a proud member of the Navy with a rating of SF3c, (Ships Fitter third class), having passed my test April 25, 1941. I had come pretty far from my lowly rank of Seaman’s Apprentice when I had joined my ship in Bremerton, Washington in 1939. My ship had been at Pearl Harbor since December of 1940, so I had applied myself to learning as much as I could.
I was living at that time at the old Naval Station, at Honolulu, in a big old house with five or six other guys. We had a couple of native cooks that lived with us, and they could cook us up anything. We lived like kings.
I was on permanent Shore Patrol duty for the Mine Fleet, so did not live on board my ship, the USS Ramsay DM16, hull number 124. She was a four piper Destroyer that was converted to a Minelayer. With a speed of 32 ½ knots, she was one of the fastest ships in the fleet. She and her sister ships the U.S.S. Gamble, U.S.S. Breese, and the U.S.S. Montgomery, were docked together at Pearl Harbor, near Battleship Row.
On the morning of the 7th, I had not been on duty long, when  I was called to a disturbance at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, in which some of the Navy were involved. There had been a Christmas party going on there the night before, and it must have spilled over into the morning.  I arrived on the scene, and arrested a couple of Navy Officers, on charges of drunk and disorderly conduct. I placed the men in my, "Paddy Wagon", and proceeded to take the road out of Honolulu towards Pearl Harbor, with the intent of placing them in the brig at the Submarine Base. This being the main brig for all Navy personnel.
My destination there, was the Headquarters CINCPAC building, at that time located right on the harbor. I was just within sight of the Base, when suddenly I began to observe planes flying over our ships on Battleship Row. I couldn’t believe my eyes, when the ships began to receive bomb and torpedo hits. I stepped on the gas and tore toward the Sub Base, as fast as my truck would go. I didn’t yet grasp fully what was going on, my only thought was to do my duty, and drop off the men. There had to be some mistake, but the big red zero’s on the planes soon told me, it was no mistake, we were being attacked by the Japanese!
I arrived without incident at HQ, where the men were taken into custody. I was then sent with another sailor across the road to the harbor wall, there we commandeered a twenty foot motor whale boat, and set off as fast as we could.  The planes were coming in over and in front of us, strafing as they came, bombs were dropping all around us, torpedo’s tore through the water near us, and it seemed as if all hell had broken loose. 
Battleship Row looked like a flaming inferno, burning oil and fuel was spreading everywhere over the water. The screams of men and rending mental filled my ears, the clouds of burning fuel choked my throat and nostrils, making it hard to breath, and at times impossible to see.
Men, dead and alive, were everywhere in the water. We saw men jump from the ships into the burning oil, it made us sick to see it, but we  pressed on. The other sailor and I, began to pull men from the water. Our boat was not large, and we had to be careful not to overload and swamp it. When it came to entering a smoke cloud we held our breath, ran into it, grabbed around in the water for whatever we could find, dragged it aboard, and dashed back out again, in order to catch our breath.
Sometimes it was difficult to tell what were men, they were so badly burned and covered in oil.  We just grabbed for anything that was in the water, that felt human. It was still pretty early in the morning, and it being a Sunday, many of the sailors had been caught still asleep, and had leaped from there ships clad only in there underwear, or were completely naked. These were especially hard to pull from the water, as they were as slick as, “greased pigs." They were almost too slick, to drag into our boat, and kept slipping from our hands, back into the water.
The burn victims were the worst, great care had to be taken, for when we first attempted to pull them from the water, their skin came off in our hands. Others not so badly burned were vomiting from ingested fuel and salt water. There was no time to check for how severe the men's conditions were. We hauled them in as fast as we could, some to the harbor wall at Ford Island, and others back to the Sub Base, where men on shore took over their care.
The dead we hauled in, were lain along one part of the harbor wall. I don’t know how many boat loads we took in, or how many men we saved. There was no time to think about that, or about danger from the enemy, it was just go, go, go to try and save as many of our sailors as we could. It was a living nightmare that just seemed to go on and on forever. 
Later when it was finally over, all of our cloths had to be burned for they were ruined. I did manage to save my Shore Patrolman’s belt, which I cleaned and re-whitened with shoe polish. I didn’t want to burn mine, as I had decorated it with steel studs, for I was something of a snappy dresser.
Meanwhile the Japanese were still blazing and bombing away, and soon those of our ships that could,  responded with guns of their own. I can not adequately describe the sights or sounds; the blasting of gun fire, the horrific sounds of explosions, the screams of the wounded and dying, and rending of metal. Nothing that I experienced in the rest of the War, could ever compare to those hours,  I spent assisting with the rescue efforts at Pearl.
One other thing I witnessed while out in the harbor I will never forget. As we were going along Battleship Row, pulling men out of the water, we looked up and saw the U.S.S. Nevada. She had gotten under way and was coming down the Row right towards us. The men in the water struggled to get out of her way and so did we. She went on past us, and as we watched, the Japanese just went crazy trying to bomb and torpedo her. Suddenly she turned into the shore and beached herself. Still the Japanese attacked and attacked, but she did not sink. They were not able to use her to block up the channel as they intended, for if they had, the fleet would have been even worse sitting ducks.
I did not know that my ship had left the harbor uninjured, nor how my fellow crewmen fared. I did not see my ship again for two weeks, but there was little time to dwell on it, as the attack had made things a seriously chaotic mess. There was so much wreckage and destruction,  it boggled the mind.

When my ship finally came back, one of my buddies told how he had manned a fifty caliber gun, and was shooting at the torpedo's, which were skimming across the top of the water towards the ship. He had never heard of torpedo's that could do that, but he was shooting them out of the water. The 1st Lieutenant yelled at him to stop, saying, " You can't shoot those things!" but he yelled back, "What the hell do you think I've been doing?!" He was never brought up later, on charges for insubordination either.
After the attack order had to be restored, ships repaired, and salvaged for further service. I was trained in Ships Salvage and Repair, so my skills were sorely needed. I had in recent months completed training in underwater welding and torch work, so for the next two weeks, until my ship returned to Pearl, I worked night and day using my skills, to aid in the rescue and salvage at Pearl. We had little rest, and as sleep was full of nightmares, those of us working, were glad to have something to distract us. We were driven with purpose, fueled by our anger, and an intense wish for revenge on our enemy, we pushed ourselves to the limit. Every man there, working toward one goal, the salvaging of our pride, and our Pacific Fleet, so we could get back to sea and destroy those that had so underhandedly attacked us.

Thus ends the account of grandpa's  story of the Attack on Pearl Harbor 74 years ago today. But here is another, which he told me several times, which I will include here. He never wanted to dwell on the horrors he saw that day, but would always tell me this story instead.

Here it is in grandpa's own words:

Two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I returned to my ship the U.S.S. Ramsay. She had just returned from doing anti-submarine and escort duty, for re-supplying. She needed to be inspected for possible damage to her hull, received during the attack, so they suited up the Chief Bosn’s Mate in the deep sea diving suit, roped him up, and prepared to drop him over the side. Just as they were getting ready to put on the diving helmet, he leaned down, to take a look over the side, and his glasses fell off into the water, so he couldn’t see a thing. I had the same training in salvage and repair work that he did, so was suited up and lowered over the side instead. 
I got below the surface, and the water was still so dirty from the attack, that I couldn’t see a thing, so I had to inspect the entire hull by feel. I had gone completely around the ship, which had taken some time, and as I came back to where I had started, I felt an object in the water, so I grabbed a hold of it to bring it topside. When they pulled me back up onto the ship, what do you suppose I’d found, but the Chief Bosn’s Mates glasses. We all had a good laugh, but the Chief  was really relieved, as it was his only pair of glasses, and he couldn’t see a thing without them.

Here are a couple of guys in suits similar to what Grandpa would have worn.

Now you might think, given that he had endured such a thing, that grandpa would ever after hate the Japanese. If you thought this, you would be wrong. Grandpa went on to become an officer in the Navy, having the rank of Chief Warrant Carpenter. He was with the first Marines, who landed at Amori Japan, after the surrender. He walked along the streets and saw flowers growing in their gardens, just like the flowers in his mothers garden back home in Missouri, and realized that the every day Japanese people, were not who he had been at war with.

He came to have a deep respect for them, and when the Japanese troubles continued in the Hood River Valley, after the war, as a banker, he refused to follow the path of bigotry, and gave loans to them, and went to court to testify on their behalf, to help them get honest prices for their land.

Grandpa, today we remember you, and all those other boys who lost their lives, or lived through Pearl as you did. You and they truly were hero's, and we thank you for preserving our freedom.


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