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Seniors reminisce about Pearl Harbor

Alyson Buschena/Daily Globe Betty and Rusty Anderson, a WWII veteran, reminisce about their experiences during WWII.1 / 2
Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Pictured here is the December 7, 1941 special edition of the Worthington Daily Globe.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Seventy-one years ago, with rumors of war rumbling in the east and a Japanese threat looming in the west, mothers began preparing breakfast, farmers stepped into the cold to do morning chores and children tried to steal a few more minutes of sleep -- all unaware that "a day which will live in infamy" was dawning.

Eugene Erlandson spent the night before Dec. 7 guarding the gate of Wheeler Field, 20 miles north of Pearl Harbor. He was one of several residents of The Meadows in Worthington who shared their memories of what transpired that day in 1941.

He was walking home from church the next morning when Japanese aircraft flew over and began attacking the fleet of P-40 fighter planes.

"We had inspection the day before," Erlandson said. "All the planes were lined up right in a row -- perfect targets."

When the attack ended, 3,566 Americans had been killed or wounded, and 21 American ships and 323 aircraft had been destroyed or damaged.

The Japanese suffered 64 casualties, and lost five ships and 103 aircraft.

In the weeks following the attack, Erlandson remembers how dark it was at night. No lights were allowed --even smoking a cigarette outside in the dark was considered dangerous, he said.

Bob Henderson was in his early 20s, a new Army recruit, and on his was to Kodiak, Alaska, on Dec. 7.

Kodiak was called the "Pearl Harbor of the North," and it was believed that Japan would either attack Pearl Harbor or Kodiak.

"If they would have attacked Alaska, they could have come into the United States like nobody's business," Henderson said.

Henderson remembers hearing the news announced over the sound system before the rise whistle had been sounded that morning.

"We were still in bed. They were reporting that there were Japanese submarines in the water that we were traveling through," he said.

That day, the U.S. flags on the ship were pulled down, all portholes painted over and anything bright covered to prevent a possible attack.

"The submarines kinda scared a lot of us," Henderson said. "But as far as the actual attack on Pearl Harbor, we felt it was so far away that we were fairly safe."

Bob's wife, Irma, remembers being home with her family that day, a few years before she married Bob, and hearing the news about Pearl Harbor on the radio.

"My family was surprised," she said. "We just knew we were in trouble. Before that, it had all been over in Germany -- now we were in a war."

Irma had graduated from college in 1941 and was teaching, but when she saw an advertisement for help in airplane factories in Kansas, she decided to do her part.

"Everyone was helping," she said.

Irma went to Wichita, Kan., where she worked for Beechcraft as an airplane inspector.

"That first night they told me what I had to do and when the head guy came around I said, 'There is no way I can do this,' she recalled. "'Oh yes you can,' he said, 'and you're going to.' So I did, and I enjoyed it."

After the war ended, Bob and Irma got married and moved to Georgia, where Irma worked in a fuse plant.

"My job there wasn't as much fun," she said.

"I took her away from a good job," Bob said with a chuckle.

Lawrence Noomen was a high school student when the Pearl Harbor attack happened.

"We didn't know what happened that day," Noomen remembered. "I was surprised 'cause, from then on, everyone knew we was at war."

He joined the Army in 1946 and became part of the occupying force in Japan after the war.

On his way home from Japan, he passed through Pearl Harbor and spent four days there. Remnants of ships could be seen sticking out of the water.

"They had cleared a path (between the sunken ships)," Noomen said. "The water must have been full of them."

Rusty and Betty Anderson remembered a friend, Leland Erbes, who had been on the USS Arizona when it sank in Pearl Harbor.

"He wanted me to sign up with him, when we were in school," said Rusty, who later joined the Air Force, "but I wasn't old enough. I didn't go with him. A year afterwards, we heard he was on the ship that went to the bottom. We were darn good friends, but I was always glad I didn't go with him."

Loretta Yeske's father, Ben Wenzel, worked in the Pearl Harbor ship yard before the attack as a contracted civilian. He moved to Pearl Harbor earlier that year, lured by the promise of $1-per-hour wages offered by the Navy.

He was in one of the dry docks when the Japanese began firing. Wenzel was cited by President Roosevelt for going beyond the call of duty for pulling injured out of the water while the fighting was still going on.

For six weeks after the attack, Wenzel put in 16-hour days doing maintenance and repair, trying to get the fleet back in order.

"It was hard for him to talk about it," Yeske said. "He took a lot of bodies and body parts out of the Arizona and out of the water."

Harold Hogan was also still in school that December. When he heard the news about Pearl Harbor, all he remembers thinking, "Those doggone Japs."

The following June, after he graduated, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard.

Hogan was placed on a "torpedo" ship in the Philippines, transferring supplies from large ships to smaller islands.

During his time in the Philippines, his boat picked up a lot of Japanese, Hogan said.

"They were scared to death of us," he said with a shake of his head.

Hogan and his four brothers were all in various branches of the service during World War II. One even worked in Tennessee on the Manhattan Project -- a project that eventually led to the creation of the atomic bomb.

With tears in his eyes, Hogan spoke of his younger brother, who decided to quit school and join the Navy.

"One day in the Philippines, it was raining and I went forward (on the boat) for something, and an Army boat came along side us," he said. "Somebody yelled, 'Harold!' Well, I didn't know anyone out here! So I kept going and they hollered again, 'Harold!' so I looked and here my brother was on the other boat. He had found me all the way out there."

Like many of that generation, Hogan brushes off his time of service.

"It was the only thing to do. It really was. We were doing our part," he said.

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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