Pearl Harbor: 'A Date Which Will Live in Infamy'

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U.S. Navy Veteran Mel Heckman shares his story. (Photo by Leslie Stratmoen)
U.S. Navy Veteran Mel Heckman shares his story. (Photo by Leslie Stratmoen)

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the American Army and Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The attack came as a surprise to the American Army and Navy and lead to great losses of life and equipment. More than 2000 American citizens were killed and more than 1000 were injured.

90-year-old Mel Heckman of Sheridan, a U.S. Navy Veteran, was at Pearl Habor that fateful day, and can attest that the attack started at exactly ten to 8, when a Japanese plane flew over and clipped the antennae of the radio tower knocking out communications in the South Pacific to stateside.

That same plane then dropped a bomb on the only hangar on Ford Island where he was, that stored fuel and ammunition. He said he was on fire duty that day, so he hopped on a fire truck with others to put out the hangar fire.

Though they made it through the gunfire, their efforts were stopped because shrapnel blew the truck’s suction valve. So they headed to the other side of the island. That was right alongside the water where the Arizona was moored.

It was at that moment, he said, that a high altitude bomber came over and the bomb hit the main deck of the battleship. When the ship exploded, he said he saw the Arizona come out of the water and hang in mid-air for a fraction of a second before breaking in two, and dropping down in an L-shape.

The concussion from the blast was so great, he said, that he and others on land had to grab onto palm trees to hold on for dear life. Following the blast, they stayed there and helped pull men out of the water. He doesn’t know how many he helped, and doesn’t think his efforts were heroic, as he said he was just doing his job, like so many other soldiers that day.

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