One of the most defining moments in U.S. history happened 72 years ago Saturday. It was the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, just before 8 a.m., no one was expecting the destruction that was about to occur. Hundreds of fighter planes from Japan attacked the American navel base near Honolulu, Hawaii. The devastating attack lasted for about two hours, but the memory of Pearl Harbor will last forever.
In June of that same year, Louie Porter, 94, of Thomasville was graduating from college at the age of 23. He was a second lieutenant in the reserve. With the threat of war, he was ordered to duty immediately. While still in training on a base in South Carolina, Porter was sent to Fort Presidio in San Francisco.
“We were sent to San Francisco to begin preparing to go overseas to the Philippines,” he said.
Porter and the rest of the unit were to set sail for the Philippines on Dec. 1. Everything was ready and then the news came.
Their route was altered by the headlines of Sunday morning’s paper.
Porter said, “We had a change of course. I was on my way to breakfast that Sunday morning — and it was still dark outside. That’s when I saw the headlines on the papers. The headlines took up most of the paper. Immediately afterwards, everyone’s destinations were changed. We didn’t set sail to the Philippines that day, which I found out later were attacked on that same day.”
He remembered the entire West Coast being afraid and on alert in case they were to be attacked next. Guards were set up on each end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Everyone was on edge. We thought we might be attacked next. It was all so chaotic because nobody knew what anyone was doing. The Japanese had us down— we couldn’t do anything,” said Porter.
By Dec. 21, only weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Porter was transferred to Hawaii to defend a designated area. The convey was the first to arrive overseas from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor after the attack and what they found when they arrived was shocking.
Porter said, “At the time when we got there, it looked like all the pictures you’ve ever seen of Pearl Harbor. It was disarrayed completely. The whole island and West Coast was jittery. You didn’t walk outside at night, that’s for sure.”
The Army and Navy were still concerned with another attack and put as many ships out to sea as possible. There was only a small air force left because of the attack. Porter recalled that between the Army, Navy and Marines, a defense was managed to be set up.
He was assigned to a beach defense that stretched from the island of Oahu to Honolulu in case of a landing attack. Later, Porter was assigned to truck patrolling until he was shipped out.
Porter said, “Pearl Harbor was a real mess. To see those ships half sunk — especially the famous Arizona — it was horrible.”
Seventy-two years after “the day that will live in infamy,” Porter still remembers every detail of his experience with being transferred to Pearl Harbor weeks after the attack.
He said, “Pearl Harbor — all I can say is you cannot imagine. You see pictures and hear stories of the heroes, but you cannot imagine.”
Within the two-hour attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese managed to destroy nearly 20 American naval vessels, including battleships and almost 200 airplanes.
More than 2,000 American soldiers and sailors lost their lives and another 1,000 were wounded. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. His request was approved and officially joined World War II more than two years after it started.
Nearly five years later, World War II drew to a close.
Porter said, “After several more years, we were able to defeat the Japanese. I think we did a good job.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.