Pearl Harbor survivors relive attack in movie theater
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:38 PM
"Everyone around Jack Rosebrook died. There is no explanation why his life was spared, but he is still grateful to be alive.I was a very lucky human being, Rose said. I thank God for it every day. Glenn Lane has no answers for why more than 1,100 of his shipmates became entombed in a watery grave in the belly of the USS Arizona, while he was blown off the war ship, landing in oily, fiery water of Pearl Harbor. Rosebrook and Lane, both Oak Harbor residents, joined 13 other Pearl Harbor survivors on Friday night at Plaza Cinema 3. They were among thousands who found themselves in the middle of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Friday night, they took the chance and relived the event, this time on much safer ground at the Oak Harbor theater. The 15 members of Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Chapter 5, which covers Northwest Washington, were escorted into the theater for the premier of the film, Pearl Harbor. There, accompanied by their families and friends, the aged men revisited the devastation, horror and sorrow of that fateful day nearly 60 years ago. The attack killed 3,303 mostly young sailors stationed aboard ships moored at Battleship Row in the Honolulu harbor. The survivors remained engrossed in the 3-hour film. The attack depicted in the movie was so relentless and devastating it left the viewer wondering how anyone could have survived it. If the scenes were painful for the vets to watch, onlookers couldn't tell. The men, still strong in spirit, maintained a courageous outward appearance. The strongest sentiment expressed by the survivors is one of pride in America and their job well done. The contrasts were vivid. The film portrayed two dashing, young, vibrant World War II pilots, Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker. Rafe and Danny, the picture of youth and vitality, loved and battled, lost and won, watched by 15 pairs of eyes, belonging to men mostly in their 80s. Looking at them now, one is forced to realize that the 15 war vets must have been much like Rafe and Danny 60 years ago. Comfortably seated in the theater in rows marked with simple and dignified red, white and blue ribbons, the vets and their guests were personally served refreshments by a group of present-day sailors, two generations removed from the Pearl Harbor Survivors. The young sailors, in gleaming white uniforms, are part of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The sailors were led in their volunteer effort by the unit's Command Master Chief Bill Tyrrell. Tyrrell, assisted by his wife Sunny Tyrrell, coordinated the event to get the Pearl Harbor survivors out to see the movie in its first run in Oak Harbor, and coordinated a reception after the movie at the Chief Petty Officer's Club at the naval air station. Tyrrell said he first met the group of survivors four years ago when Chapter 5 president Jack Young called the naval air station to see if any of the commands there had a boat in which the survivors could be taken out into a local harbor for its annual Dec. 7 memorial ceremony. The EOD unit has a 65-foot support craft, which has taken the survivors out to lay a wreath in the water each Pearl Harbor Day since. The wreath is laid at precisely 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time Dec. 7 to mark the exact time of the onset of the first wave of the Japanese air attack. The EOD unit has been involved with the Pearl Harbor Survivors group ever since, Tyrrell said. At the CPO Club reception, the survivors gave their thoughts about the film. A lot of it was pretty much like it was, said Rosebrook, who survived the attack on the USS Pennsylvania. There were more ships burning in the movie than there really was. Overall, Rosebrook said the film was a little overdone, but the devastation of the attack on Pearl Harbor as depicted in the movie was pretty accurate. Rosebrook was manning a gun on the Pennsylvania, shooting at incoming Japanese aircraft. A Japanese bomb landed near him and crashed through three decks of the ship before exploding. The three men manning the gun with Rosebrook were killed, but he was unscathed. Jerry Wachsmuth was a Marine with a detachment on the Pennsylvania as well. He and his wife, Fran, sat at a table with Rosebrook Friday night. The two men recollected what it was like that day onboard the ship. Wachsmuth was in the shower that morning when the attack began. He said he could hear the noise of the shelling in the harbor. Someone yelled, 'The (Japanese) are in the harbor,' Wachsmuth said. After dressing in a hurry, Wachsmuth said he went up on deck to help the sailors fire anti-aircraft ammunition at enemy planes. Wachsmuth and Rosebrook compared their similar experiences on the Pennsylvania, shooting at the Japanese planes. We fired more ammunition than any other ship, Wachsmuth said. Rosebrook nodded in agreement. Wachsmuth also said the movie was rather accurate. At that time in our lives our country didn't have adequate defenses. What I liked about the movie is that it's important to keep our defenses up. This kept going through my mind (as I watched the movie), Wachsmuth said. Wachsmuth said the human aspect of what the sailors went through in the water in the movie was realistic. But what was most realistic was the aftermath, he said. What was (most) realistic was how overwhelming the task was to take care of the number of casualties they had, Wachsmuth said. Wachsmuth is grateful for the message the new movie sends, he said. It will probably bring alive again some things that were forgotten or that people didn't know about at all, he said. Harold Johnson was on board the USS Oklahoma, four decks down, when it was dealt a devastating blow, causing the ship to list and ultimately capsize. He found a ladder that led up to the top deck, escaping what turned out to be a watery grave for other sailors on the ship. Johnson and his wife took their two young grandchildren, ages 9 and 11, to see the movie Friday night. That's exactly how it was, Johnson said of the attack scenes in the movie. Most of it was pretty accurate. Johnson said he thought the movie was a good history lesson. I'm glad the grandchildren saw it, he said, adding that the boy and girl have already heard his stories on numerous occasions. Don Bolton was a ship fitter on the USS Selferidge on Dec. 7, 1941. I saw the explosion. the Utah get capsized, the Oklahoma go over, Bolton said of his real-life experience. Of the movie, Bolton said it was pretty realistic with some small errors. There was too much close shooting. They didn't do those kinds of things, Bolton said. But, he said, the movie was good. I enjoyed it. It was interesting, Bolton said. Overall, the veterans' comments seem to indicate that the movie did a pretty good job in showing the chaos that they managed to live through. The ships and the Pearl Harbor business, especially the capsize of the Oklahoma, was pretty realistic, Young said. Glenn Lane was on two ships attacked that day in Pearl Harbor. Stationed aboard the USS Arizona, he was blown off the deck of the ship and into the water when the Arizona received a direct hit. He swam to the USS Nevada, and was taken on board there. Later, enemy aircraft bombed the Nevada as well, leaving it dead in the water. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said Dec. 7, 1941, was a day that would live in infamy. The surviving vets said they hope it is not just a day that will live in infamy, but a day that will live in the memories of all generations of Americans. It is important to Lane, and the other survivors, that America never forget what happened to its US Navy Pacific Fleet on that day so long ago. The new film is helping to educate people.Said Lane: It has good lessons to be learned, especially by kids. "