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It was December 7th, 1941. Several large U.S. Navy ships sat in the shallow, blue water that was Pearl Harbor. It was about 7:50 in the morning and most sailors were still asleep in the ships. The air was cool and the sun was already up. A gentle breeze made the trees on the island of Oahu sway back and forth. Twittery birds sang loudly all over the beautiful Hawaiian island.
Deep in the hull of the USS Oklahoma, Seaman Henry Farris was asleep. Several other sailors were in the room with him, and it was quiet except for the breathing of the men. Farris was a 20-year-old kid who had joined the navy because he didn’t get very good grades in high school. After graduating high school he had tried taking classes at his local college in Desota, Illinois, where he grew up. But none of the classes interested him, and one day he just quit.
Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Henry enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He, like many other Americans, didn’t expect to go to war. At that time, World War II hadn’t even started. He thought that the Navy was an easy job and a good way to kill time.
In 1939, when Henry was 18 years old and had just enlisted, World War II broke out. It was the largest war in history, killing millions of people, whether civilian or military. The deaths were not confined to any one nation or military. The war affected every country in the world. America had stayed out of the war so far. But many thought that getting involved in the war was inevitable.
Totalitarianism fueled the flames of World War II. Adolf Hitler wanted to remove those he considered inferior and build an empire for Germany. Francisco Franco wanted more territory for Spain. Benito Mussolini wanted to win glory for his home country of Italy. Farther to the east, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, was the country of Japan. Emperor Hirohito dreamed of rebuilding Japan into the great empire it had once been.
All of these countries formed what was called the Axis side. But there was a group of Allies that were fighting against the conquest of the Axis forces. The Soviet Union, led by Stalin, was fighting hard against the Axis in northern Europe. Winston Churchill and his country of Great Britain fought against the Germans in western Europe. America was trying to keep themselves out of “Europe’s war”, but the threat to their freedom could not be ignored forever. So American President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped the allied forces by trading them supplies, and creating embargoes with the Axis forces.
Henry specialized in communications after basic training. He finished his training in August of 1941. After training Henry had a 3 week leave. He left home in September of 1941, and arrived at Pearl Harbor where he was stationed. His parents cried bitterly when he left. More men than usual were put in Pearl Harbor by the military because of the growing threat of Japanese invasion.
Henry had been in Pearl Harbor for three months. He had met two of his best friends. George Hailey, the first guy Henry had met, was always joking around and smiling. He was a handsome and tall kid. His dark black hair always lay in curls on his forehead. A poster of a good-looking female movie star hung next to his bunk.
Farris’ second friend, Jack Wiley, was quieter than George, but he was a cheerful guy and easy to get along with. He had steel blue eyes and brown hair. He loved to listen to Louis Armstrong records. A devout Catholic, Wiley had a cross necklace around his neck at all times, and a picture of the Virgin Mary hung next to his bunk. The other sailors in the barracks called him the “Holy Roller”.
The Americans inside the Oklahoma and all the other ships in Pearl Harbor were unaware. Unaware that they were about to become part of a historical event. A historical event that would catapult the United States into World War II. No man in that Harbor knew what December 7th had in store for them. They didn’t know they were about to experience a terrible day. A day that would live in infamy.
Farris was awakened by a shrill sounding alarm. A red light on the wall of the small sleeping quarters flashed on and off. Every man in the room jumped out of their bunks immediately. “I wonder what’s going on?” George said to Henry as they ran towards the door.
“Don’t know,” he replied. “But it’s not a drill.”
As Henry, George, and Jack ran out the door of the crew’s sleeping quarters, the entire ship shook. It jerked so violently that the three of them and several other men went flying through the air. Some hit the wall, but Henry had the good fortune of landing on top of another person. Jack and George got up and ran left down the hallway towards their assigned emergency stations, both of them having a different MOS. Henry went the other direction and began to make his way topside, knowing he had to get on deck quickly.
The men slept on the bottom deck, which was just above the boiler rooms. As Henry came up a flight of stairs that led to the deck, he began to hear noises. Gunfire, explosions, men yelling. He quickened his pace, desperate to see what was going on. He neared the stairs that led to the top deck. Another explosion rocked the ship and Henry fell out of the stairway, slamming his head on the edge of the stairs and the deck.
He looked up from his position. He couldn’t believe the Hell that his eyes met. Black smoke was rising into the air from several other ships in the Harbor. Japanese planes were flying everywhere. Above decks, high in the sky, and some just above the water.
Sailors ran around on deck, many of them with serious injuries. Ensigns and Lieutenants were shouting orders to everyone. Several men already lay dead, gaping wounds apparent on their bodies. Henry was in shock, and he couldn’t move. He pinched his arm, hoping this was just a dream. But it was no dream.
The Japanese planes moved quickly. Some sprayed the decks of ships with bullets. Others dropped bombs on the ships, which sat so helplessly in the Harbor. Still others dropped torpedoes into the water, which was slowly becoming covered in black oil. Some planes even dive-bombed, without firing a single shot or dropping a single bomb.
Henry realized that he needed to move. A middle-aged Lieutenant with a beard screamed at him. “Get on that gun turret!” Henry did as he was told. He felt as though his heart had stopped when his eyes met those of another sailor. The sailor was dead, and his body lay on the deck, unmoving.
Henry moved on and finally made it to the gun turret located towards the bow. He tried to get into the turret and shoot back. He didn’t make it, because there was an explosion somewhere nearby, and a piece of shrapnel sliced into the back of his head. The Japanese planes made loud screaming noises as they passed close by, making it hard for Henry to concentrate. They were like quick, loud, metal birds. Screaming and laughing as they flew around, unleashing destruction.
About 20 feet away, there was a sailor laying on the deck. Henry could tell by the way he was yelling and moving around he was horribly wounded. Henry turned and looked at the turret he had been told to man. Then he looked back at the sailor, and his sympathy got the best of him. For the first time in his life, Henry disobeyed orders, and he went over to the injured sailor.
As Henry ran to him, he thought that he looked familiar. His heart nearly stopped beating when he realized it was the face of James Bauer. James was a sailor who slept in Henry’s sleeping quarters. James was a fun person, and Henry, George, and Jack had taken a liking to him.
Henry bent down next to James and surveyed his body for wounds. When he found the gaping hole in the man’s chest, he doubted James would ever smile or laugh again. On the right side of his chest there was a huge hole. Bone was visible and he appeared to have cracked several ribs. Blood trickled down the man’s body.
Henry turned around, looking for a medic. All of them were working on someone else, or trying to get the injured off the ship. Several men were jumping overboard to try and escape the Japanese onslaught. Henry wished that he could save James. But James was mortally wounded, and Henry concluded only God himself could save the man. Thinking that the ship was going to sink soon, Henry decided he needed to get to shore. That way he could at least help fight back or do something important, rather than literally fight a losing battle on this ship.
With tear-filled eyes, Henry grasped James’ hand with his own. He tried to say goodbye, but he just couldn’t do it. To watch your friend die was too much. As he thought about the sadness of his friend dying, James’ hand went limp. He was dead.
Henry couldn’t stay here with him. He still needed to get to land, and time was running short. Henry forced himself to stand and turn away from James. He ran towards the railing of the ship and dove off. As he fell towards the already oil-covered water, Henry hoped that the impact with the water might kill him. He just wanted this all to end.
But it didn’t, and the next Henry knew he was treading water on the surface. Dead men floated all around him. Those in the water who were alive were swimming towards shore, which fortunately wasn’t far. Henry swam as fast as he could towards the beach. He had to work his way around several bodies. It was a sickening experience.
Henry realized that the attack that was going on would send the U.S. into World War II. This was war. Henry remembered a drill sergeant telling him war was hell. Looking around at all the dead bodies and swimming through them, Henry thought there was no better word for this than hell.
As he pulled himself onto the sand and stood up, he saw a figure lying on the beach, wounded like so many others. Henry began to run towards the hospital, but then he saw the face of the man lying there. It was none other than George Hailey. His eyes were closed and blood stains were all over his white t-shirt, but he was breathing. Henry knelt down and gently tapped him on the face.
“Come on George, wake up,” Henry coaxed. To his relief, George opened his eyes and looked around. He began to moan in pain. Henry decided to get him to a hospital and to safety. He was just laying on the beach, vulnerable. Despite his groans of pain, Henry picked him up and began to carry him on his shoulders.
He spoke encouragement to George, telling him everything would be alright. Henry realized he was doing this not just to comfort George, but to calm himself down. George’s eyes were wide with fear. Henry carried him up the beach, knowing George would make it if he hurried. George was wiggling as best he could, trying to get loose and rest.
“Stay with me George,” Henry said. “We’re gonna make it. Even if I have to drag you all the way across this island.” Henry realized he might have to do just that. George was in pain, and he didn’t want to be carried. Henry swore loudly several times as he fought George and carried him forward at the same time.
At long last, after what felt like forever, they arrived at a hospital. Planes still flew overhead, spraying the ground with bullets and dropping bombs. Henry put George on an empty stretcher, and a group of medics and military nurses ran to help him carry. Henry let them take George into the hospital. He followed right behind them, wanting to make sure George was alright.
All of a sudden, a bomb dropped right onto a spot near Henry and the medics. Henry felt a searing pain on his head, his legs, and his torso. He fell to the ground. His vision was blurring and he couldn’t hear anything, only a ringing. It became harder to breathe. Shrapnel had pierced his lung.
Henry knew he was going to die. The bomb had completely shattered all hope of staying alive. He thought about all he had done that day. He had been brave and tried to help. He had wanted to run away and hide, but that would have been a cowardly thing to do and he knew he couldn’t die comfortably that way. But after all he had done, he decided that he was content with dying.
Henry lay on his back, staring at the planes overhead, the black smoke rising from the ships. His vision began to fade and he just laid there, knowing what was coming. He stared at a plane flying high in the sky. Anger coursed through his body. These planes were killing his friends.
Henry didn’t want to die, but he knew there was nothing he could do. As he thought of his mother and father, and his brother Timothy, Henry felt happy. He smiled, remembering the faces of his family he loved so much. And Henry died, becoming one of the thousands that died that day. The day that will live in infamy.