Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2017

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On Pearl Harbor Day, ‘Forgive not forget’

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Mike O'Callaghan, Governer of Nevada from 1970-1978, and an editor at the Las Vegas Sun.

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The late Mike O’Callaghan served two terms as governor of Nevada and was the Sun’s executive editor. A veteran of the Marines, Air Force and Army, O’Callaghan wrote authoritatively about military service. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, among other awards, for his actions in the Army during the Korean War. The following is a column published on Dec. 7, 2000, remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Forgive but not forget” comes to mind every Pearl Harbor bombing anniversary we recall. These are the words over the door leading into the Japanese death camp and Jeath Museum in Thailand. It’s located near the Kwaenoi (Kwai) River, where more than 16,000 Australians, British, Dutch and American POWs died building the Burma-Siam railroad for the Japanese during World War II. A nearby burial ground has more than 8,000 headstones for those who weren’t returned home after the war. Former prisoners at the camp tell us that if the war had dragged on another year, probably 16,000 more sickly men would have died working on the railroad.

People of my generation can recall where they were Dec. 7, 1941, when radios told us Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I was on the farm in Wisconsin when our battery-powered radio told us of the attack. My uncle, Allen Berry, and his family were there for a Sunday chicken and squirrel dinner. Their son Jerry was serving on a submarine in the Pacific at that time and survived the entire war in action.

Nevadan Ralph Levenberg, stationed in the Philippines, recalled in a Nevada Oral History publication:

“On the 8th of December (we were across the international dateline), we were told Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Two nights later, a lone Japanese bomber hit one of our hangars on the flight line, which was quite a distance from our barracks. The next day, as a group of our airplanes were landing to refuel, here came the Japanese dive bombers and Zeros. They caught six or seven of our airplanes right in their landing patterns. This was my first actual experience of a war situation, and every bomb and every bullet sounded like it had my name on it!”

Later, Levenberg was captured and survived the horrible Bataan Death March.

Aboard the USS Nevada (BB-36) was my friend, the late Don Ross, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions. He told me that he was shaving that morning and “had just finished scraping one side of my face and ready to start on the other side when I heard the noise.” He looked out of a porthole toward Ford Island, “where there was a big black and red cloud of smoke.” He also saw enemy aircraft and knew we were at war.

U.S. News & World Report tells of Ross then firing up the boilers to get the ship moving, and she was hit with a torpedo. “Ross headed down to the forward dynamo room. Four 1,600-pound bombs struck. The fourth bored down to the third deck and exploded, sending fire through the ventilators. One blast hit Ross in the face. Steam filled the room. ‘Get the hell out of here!’ Ross yelled to the 27 crewmen in his section. ‘Now!’ Sightless, he felt his way to the generators and shut them down, then slumped unconscious.

“As he fell, his chest pressed the talk button on his phone. A sailor on the line heard him breathing, rushed in and pulled him out. By now, his breathing had quit. But, after artificial respiration, he revived — and realized that an exhaust needed turning off. He returned to the inferno and shut it down, then went below to deal with other generators. He tried to move an unconscious sailor, only to pass out himself. Comrades saved them both. Ross thought smoke had kept him from seeing. Actually, he was blind and remained so for days. Not until after Christmas did his sight fully return.”

Now, 59 years later, it’s time again to “forgive but not forget.”

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