Pearl Harbor survivor, 101, returning to Hawaii for ceremony

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HONOLULU — When Japanese bombs began falling connected Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class David Russell archetypal sought refuge beneath platform connected the USS Oklahoma.

But a split-second determination connected that December greeting 80 years agone changed his mind, and apt saved his life.

“They started closing that hatch. And I decided to get retired of there,” Russell, present 101, said successful a caller interview.

Within 12 minutes his battleship would capsize nether a barrage of torpedoes. Altogether 429 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma would perish — the top decease toll from immoderate vessel that time different than the USS Arizona, which mislaid 1,177.

Russell plans to instrumentality to Pearl Harbor connected Tuesday for a ceremonial successful remembrance of the much than 2,300 American troops killed successful the Dec. 7, 1941, onslaught that launched the U.S. into World War II.

About 30 survivors and 100 different veterans from the warfare are expected to observe a infinitesimal of soundlessness astatine 7:55 a.m., the infinitesimal the onslaught began.

Survivors, present successful their precocious 90s oregon older, stayed location past twelvemonth owed to the coronavirus pandemic and watched a livestream of the lawsuit instead.

Russell is traveling to Hawaii with the Best Defense Foundation, a nonprofit founded by erstwhile NFL Linebacker Donnie Edwards that helps World War II veterans revisit their aged battlefields.

He recalls heading topside erstwhile the onslaught started due to the fact that helium was trained to load anti-aircraft guns and figured helium could assistance if immoderate different loader got hurt.

But Japanese torpedo planes dropped a bid of underwater missiles that pummeled the Oklahoma earlier helium could get there. Within 12 minutes, the hulking battleship capsized.

“Those darn torpedoes, they conscionable kept hitting america and kept hitting us. I thought they’d ne'er stop,” Russell said. “That vessel was dancing around.”

Russell clambered implicit and astir toppled lockers portion the battleship dilatory rolled over.

“You had to locomotion benignant of sideways,” helium said.

Once helium got to the main deck, helium crawled implicit the ship’s broadside and eyed the USS Maryland moored adjacent door. He didn’t privation to aquatics due to the fact that leaked lipid was burning successful the h2o below. Jumping, helium caught a enactment hanging from the Maryland and escaped to that battleship without injury.

He past helped walk ammunition to the Maryland’s anti-aircraft guns.

After the battle, Russell and 2 others went to Ford Island, adjacent to wherever the battleships were moored, successful hunt of a bathroom. A dispensary and enlisted quarters determination had turned into a triage halfway and spot of refuge for hundreds of wounded, and they recovered horribly burned sailors lining the walls. Many would dice successful the hours and days ahead.

“Most of them wanted a cigarette, and I didn’t fume astatine that clip but I, uh, I got a battalion of cigarettes and immoderate matches, and I lit their cigarettes for them,” Russell said. “You consciousness for those guys, but I couldn’t bash anything. Just airy a cigaret for ’em and fto ’em puff the cigarettes.”

Russell inactive thinks astir however fortunate helium was. He ponders wherefore helium decided to spell topside connected the Oklahoma, knowing astir of the men who stayed down apt were incapable to get retired aft the hatch closed.

In the archetypal 2 days aft the bombing, a civilian unit from the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard rescued 32 men trapped wrong the Oklahoma by cutting holes successful its hull. But galore others perished. Most of those who died were buried successful anonymous Honolulu graves marked arsenic “unknowns” due to the fact that their remains were excessively degraded to beryllium identified by the clip they were removed from the vessel betwixt 1942 and 1944.

In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed 388 sets of these remains successful hopes of identifying them with the assistance of DNA exertion and dental records. They succeeded with 361.

Russell’s brother-in-law was among them. Fireman 1st Class Walter “Boone” Rogers was successful the fireroom, which got deed by torpedoes, Russell said. The subject identified his remains successful 2017, and he’s since been reburied astatine Arlington National Cemetery.

Russell remained successful the Navy until retiring successful 1960. He worked astatine Air Force bases for the adjacent 2 decades and retired for bully successful 1980.

His wife, Violet, passed distant 22 years ago, and helium present lives unsocial successful Albany, Oregon. He drives himself to the market store and the section American Legion station successful a achromatic Ford Explorer portion listening to polka euphony astatine apical volume. When he’s not hanging retired with different veterans astatine the legion, helium reads subject past and watches TV. He keeps a stack of 500-piece puzzles to support his caput sharp.

For decades, Russell didn’t stock overmuch astir his experiences successful World War II due to the fact that nary 1 seemed to care. But the images from Pearl Harbor inactive haunt him, particularly astatine night.

“When I was successful the VA infirmary determination successful San Francisco, they said, ‘We privation you to speech astir World War II.’ And I said, I told them, I said, ‘When we speech astir it, radical don’t judge us. They conscionable locomotion away.’ So present radical privation to cognize much astir it truthful we’re trying to speech astir it. We’re trying to speech astir it, and we’re conscionable telling them what we saw,” helium said. “You can’t hide it.”

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