|Posted by H5O 1.0 FOREVER on December 7, 2017 at 8:10 PM|
And, so, life settled down for John and me. We each had jobs we enjoyed. We were together for breakfast and dinner – and at bedtime. We still attended a few social events, especially the Pearl Harbor Remembrance ceremony at the visitor center and, later, on the Arizona memorial. In the past, John had spoken on behalf of an admiral who was too elderly to speak. This year, he was asked to speak in his own right. For several weeks, we had been working together on his speech.
Now, as he was called to the dais, I beamed upon him and watched as he walked proudly forward. Yes, Admiral John Evan Johannsen still was a force with which to be reckoned. He removed his cover, set it atop the podium, thanked the lieutenant commander who had introduced him, and turned to the audience.
“Wherever a ship may be, whether sailing upon the high seas, anchored near a war zone, or in port, danger exists that an enemy will launch an attack against it. Such is a risk we take in our chosen field. It is that risk that the 2400 men who died in the attack on O‘ahu and Pearl Harbor took. Some of those men were scarcely older than boys, boys who wanted to sail around the world. Others were seasoned old salts, who had seen action in an earlier war and knew what to expect. Both young and old, seasoned and unseasoned, gave their lives in defense of this country.
“Communications officers manned fire hoses to spray what little water made its way from the hydrants on which too great a demand was being made. Pilots dove into the harbor to rescue men being burned by the flaming Bunker C diesel fuel only to be burned, themselves. A drummer in his fleet’s band assumed his place at an anti-aircraft gun and shot down two Japanese Zeroes before strafing from another Zero claimed his life.
“The dreams of sailing around the world and visiting exotic ports of call vanished at 0755 that morning. Boys became men at 0755 that morning. Men could only mutter, ‘Here we go again!’ as they sprang into action.
“We learned a lot that morning. We learned not to put all your eggs in one basket; that is, don’t moor all your ships in one port. We improved radar and communications capabilities almost overnight. We improved lookout operations. We indoctrinated our men to understand that ‘General Quarters, General Quarters, Man your battle stations’ means shift it into high gear and be prepared to face the worst situation you’ve ever seen or imagined. Fortunately, the situation usually proves to be far less intense than it did for those boys and men on December 7, 1941.
“When I was a lad, my dad was a captain. I met him at the front door, wanting to hear all about his adventures at sea. How many enemy planes had his ship shot down? None, of course. The Big War had ended many years before. He served in a peacetime Navy – until December 7, 1941. Four days later, he set sail from Naval Base Norfolk to bring men and materiel to Pearl Harbor before continuing on to engage in battle in the Western Pacific. Some of the men he brought over had been hastily graduated from Annapolis two weeks before their official graduation date. Dad told me they had come aboard, ready to serve. Every single one saluted him at the top of the gangway and asked, ‘What may I do, sir?’
“Nine years later, I graduated from the Academy and boarded my first ship, an old rust bucket that had been pulled out of mothballs for duty near Korea. She wasn’t much to look at, but she could get up steam, and her guns could take down a squadron of enemy fighters. I wanted to be a gunner and take down the whole squadron of enemy fighters by myself. The captain asked me, ‘So, why’d you waste four years at the Academy, if all you want to do is fire a weapon, Johannsen?’ I didn’t have the heart to admit that my dad had insisted on it, so I said, ‘The state university wouldn’t take me, sir.’ The captain laughed and put me in for pilot training. He said, ‘If you want to shoot down the enemy, Johannsen, you’re gonna have to go looking for them.’ So, I spent my career flying fighters and going after the enemy before they could come after us.
“And that is the primary lesson we took from Pearl Harbor. The key isn’t to remember Pearl Harbor for itself, but to make sure it never happens again. It’s not an easy goal to meet, but it is essential, and it requires that we all stay on our toes and be ready, willing, and able to do whatever we are needed to do, even dive into flaming water to rescue those who are burning.”
John’s speech brought a standing ovation. He stopped short, faced the audience, and barked from his diaphragm, “Stand down, sailors! That is an order!” The applause ended, and the audience returned to their seats, even members of the audience who held higher ranks than John did. In that moment, I was the proudest of my husband that I ever have been.
Written by H50 1.0 FOREVER