It seemed a normal Sunday morning for Oahu’s military contingents. Early risers were out for morning chow, Sunday services, or the beaches and golf courses. Some would sleep in, burdened by the lingering affects of a late night. No one awoke anticipating war on 07 Dec 41. But the plan of the day changed when the first Japanese warplanes swarmed over Hickam Field, Schofield Barracks, and Battleship Row.

Within hours, well-trained Imperial Japanese Navy pilots had decimated the Pacific Fleet’s battleships, destroyed hundreds of aircraft and buildings, and killed thousands of men. The attack drove a nation still reeling from a decade of economic depression to the edge of panic. Rumors swirled and West Coast residents feared a Japanese armada would appear on the Pacific horizon at any moment. In terms of national horror, only the War Between the States exceeds Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

You’re fortunate if you’ve been privy to a firsthand account of the raid. I enjoyed that opportunity with Bill Rudder — a Gastonia, NC newspaper man and inventor after the war — who was an electrician with the 259th Q.M. Detachment assigned to the 7th Bomber Command at Hickam Field on 07 Dec 41. His contribution won’t place him alongside Alvin York or Audie Murphy in American military lore. But Bill was there, he fought, and he lived to tell his story. 

After realizing Pearl Harbor was under a genuine attack Rudder and two buddies, John Strickland and Sanford Garrett, rushed to the armory. They were given Springfield bolt-action rifles, an infantry staple from the First World War. Once armed and having overcome problems loading the Springfield, Rudder aimed ahead of a Japanese aircraft and sent a .30 caliber slug hurtling into the Hawaiian sky. He hit nothing, but jokingly claimed to have fired the first American rifle shot of World War II. Undeterred by his miss, Rudder joined fire on another Japanese plane, which trailed smoke and crashed at Fort Kam. Rudder later examined the wreckage, finding American-made Philco tubes in the Japanese plane’s radio. 

In the  photo Mr. Rudder’s vehicle is seen parked at the base of a flag pole while a bombed building burns in the background. According to Mr. Rudder, the tattered American Flag was the result of repeated machine gun fire from Japanese fighters. What a story. 

The late Bill Rudder won’t commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. In fact, few men remain who witnessed America’s entrance into the Second World War. The youngest Pearl Harbor survivors are in their late eighties and their numbers are dwindling. As they die, so too will die their innumerable stories of anonymous bravery, stories like Bill Rudder’s. 

The last American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, passed away last February. In May, the world’s last known WW I veteran, Claude Choules, died in Australia. When the last “Bill Rudder” dies America’s firsthand connection to WW II will be forever lost, just as our connection to the “Great War” is lost. Pearl Harbor, 07 Dec 41, will remain a date that lives in infamy. But it will live as factual history, lacking the personal reference to which we’ve been accustomed. It will be a great loss.

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  • Steve Feinstein

    Great article. If you hadn’t written something about this day, I would have. It’s a shame that too many younger people today no longer recognize the significance of December 7th.

    The amazing thing is that today’s world and all its situations are still a direct result of the occurrences that took place between 1939-1945.

    The rise of the USSR/Russia and China to be front-line world powers came directly from WWII. The entire Middle East oil situation was a direct result of WWII and FDR’s incredibly idiotic (and hushed up by EVERY history book) “promise” to the Saudis in early ’44 in a meeting on a US warship not to take their oil after the war “as long as they promised never to interrupt the supply of oil to the US.” How’s that one working out for you, FDR? And all you FDR apologists who think he was our ‘greatest’ President? Look it up.

    Everything today still stems from WWII, which is why Dec 7 is still so important.

    BTW Brian, I don’t believe Liberators were in Hawaii in 1941. I’m pretty sure it was only Flying Fortresses.

    • Brian H

      You may be right about that, I have no idea. I am not sure what Fred was flying at that time, if anything. I know later in the war he did fly the B-17. He used to say the scariest part was taking off because they were so weighted down and moved quite slowly down the runway path.

      • Brian H

        Soory. Correction…Fred later flew the B-24

        I have B-17 on the brain because I have been talking about the B-17 in class.

  • Brian H

    My dear friend, Fred L. Bailey, flew the B-24 bomber in WWII. Fred was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Fred never considered himself a “hero”, as he would say he did nothing but run around in a panic for a few hours. Every year from 2001-2004 Fred would take time out of his day to come to my classroom and talk about that day and talk about his experiences flying the B-17. I am not sure if 13 year olds could fully grasp the significance of having a person who lived through one of our nation’s most “infamous” days standing before them and sharing his story. I am not even sure I grasped it. For me, it was just another day where I got to have my friend visit my school. Fred died a few years ago, as have so many of the “Greatest Generation” who are leaving us daily and will all to soon be gone forever. For me, December 7, 1941 does not remind of the date that will live in infamy, it simply reminds me of my friend who I loved to hang out with, talk politics, and crack jokes with.
    .
    God Bless you, Fred. You are missed.

  • The Gallant Gallstone

    Using an FDR inspired title?

    That’s almost as bad as openly proclaiming support fof the OWS movement.

    Damn liberals with their brainwashing Muppets and their FDR homages.

    • QPC

      Occasionally everyone has good moments, despite and awful overall Presidency. Why don’t you have some respect for Anthony and his his fantastic article on this somber day?

    • http://www.therightslant.com Anthony Hager

      Ah Mr. Gallstone. I think you’ll find no praise for FDR’s policies in this article. His presidency was a train wreck that stifled economic growth, prolonged the depression, and laid the foundation for today’s entitlement mindset. Yet his words in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor were appropriate. Whenever said quote is uttered it draws the memory of our forebears who awoke to war on 07 Dec 41. Applying the famed quotation to the day it serves has no kinship to supporting OWS, nor does it make me, or anyone else, a brainwashed Muppet paying homage to FDR. I stand by the title.