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December 07, 2006

In Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
At 89 years of age, Navy veteran Elmer Willis Smith contributed his story to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Project:

My buddy, Swede, and I were in port to overhaul all the engines on all the boats from our ship, The North Hampton. Our ship was on manuevers. On Dec. 7th I awoke by lots of noise. Swede and I slept in the Captain's Gig, and ate our meals at the hospital. Our repair shop was at the neck of the Harbor. I told Swede I was going to step out to see what all the noise was about. Just as I stepped on the float a Zero flew over, low, and I saw him drop his torpedo. We hunkered down under a concrete platform until the attacks were over.

Then we took the boat and went looking for survivors, and those who didn't survive. We came around the end of Ford Island and saw the USS Oklahoma upside down and smoking. This was so hard to take as I was on that ship for three years and had many buddies still on her. As we went by her, we heard pounding on the hull, marked the location and went into dock to alert authorities that there were people still alive in that ship. (In 2004 I went to a Pearl Harbor Survivors lunch and met an Oklahoma survivor who had been pounding on that hull!)

At lunch time Swede and I went to the hospital as usual. On the way there we saw the medics picking up the pieces of the body of a Japanese aviator who had been shot down. Normally, that would have turned my stomach and made it impossible for me to eat. That day I just thought, 'Good, he will never kill anyone anymore' and we went in and ate a hearty lunch. That hospital crew was somethings else, really doing their job in the middle of terrible conditions. After lunch until dark we ferried men back to their boats and continued to pick up survivors and body parts.

We went to see the latest Pearl Harbor story [movie] last year. It was good, but couldn't begin to give one the feel of the level of noise, the horrible stench of burning oil and flesh, the smoke so thick that it hid the sun and choked one with every breath. I never felt so proud of being an American as we watched each man, each survivor doing what needed to be done, doing their duty and the duty of those who were killed. I don't think the Japanese understood the nature of Americans nor what they took on.

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