That was then, this is now


Staff reporter

When they were children they listened to tales told by Civil War survivors. In another 50 years their grandchildren will tell tales of falling twin towers, and “Shock and Awe.”

War stories are an integral part of America’s identity, and as another generation is creating their own stories centered around wars that are now called “operations,” a dwindling group of Pearl Harbor survivors prepares to once again commemorate the worst attack on American soil in the 20th century.

There are only a handful of survivors of that “day of infamy,” Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese bombers pulled their own shock and awe campaign, coming out of nowhere to decimate the U.S. Pacific Fleet, sitting at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

On what should have been a peaceful Sunday morning, 2,395 U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army and civilian men and women were killed in the surprise attack.

Today’s survivors were the youngest crew members then, 62 years ago.

Jack Rosebrook of Oak Harbor, now 82, was just 21 on that day. After breakfast on the destroyer escort U.S.S. Pennsylvania, Rosebrook suited up for a recreational Sunday football game against a team of sailors from the nearby U.S.S. Oklahoma.

As he reached the deck, he saw a Japanese bomber fly by low and fast.

“I could see the pilot and machine gunner,” he said. “It was a torpedo bomber.”

That was the way the day known simply as “Pearl Harbor” started for him.

For the next three hours Rosebrook and several hundred thousand others fought the seemingly endless waves of Japanese bombers as the carnage enveloped them.

“It seemed like it went on forever,” Rosebrook said.

His battle station was as a gunner on an anti-aircraft gun, but with so many crewmembers gone to church that morning, they were shorthanded. Rosebrook recalls everyone did whatever they could. With no time to change, he fought the entire battle in his football uniform, helmet, cleats and all.

The Pennsylvania was in dry dock, out of the water, but no less a target. One bomb struck the deck and burrowed down three decks before exploding, killing 30 crewmen. From his vantage point the young man watched as ship after ship was hit, caught fire and sank.

Two destroyers were also in dry dock ahead of the Pennsylvania and one was blown over with a direct hit. A fireball of burning oil engulfed the ships. Rosebrook said firecrews made it worse by pumping water onto the burning oil, creating a floating raft of flames.

Nothing could prepare the crews, or the American public, for Pearl Harbor.

“We trained for it, but we weren’t ready for something like that,” Rosebrook said.

While new memories of raging battles are being made every day in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is losing its aging members at a rate of 100 per month; the North Cascades chapter has just 41 members, a handful of them on Whidbey Island.

North Cascades chapter president Jim Stansell, of Bellingham, hopes Pearl Harbor is not forgotten when they are gone.

“Everyone will have to take over,” he said.

A park and monument dedicated to Pearl Harbor survivors is being built on Camano Island, the first in the state, Stansell said.

“Go to the park and take the kids and grandkids,” he said.

As far as lessons learned from Pearl Harbor, Stansell said he thought the military learned to be more alert, but he wished the U.S. was also more proactive.

“We always wait to get hammered down before we do anything,” he said.

Does the Pearl Harbor survivor think he will see peace in his lifetime?

“I’m 80 — it’s questionable.”

Pearl Harbor ceremony Dec. 7

Those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor will be remembered Sunday, Dec. 7, in a ceremony at the Seaplane Base, hosted by Explosive Ordnance Mobile Disposal Unit 11 of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

The ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. at the Crescent Harbor Marina on the Seaplane Base. The moment of attack will be marked by members of the North Cascades Pearl Harbor Survivors Chapter 5, who will pass a wreath to EODMU-11 personnel. The wreath will then be dropped into the water from a small boat just offshore, followed by a 21-gun salute and Taps.

Guest speakers for the event commemorating the 61st anniversary of the attack will be Rear Adm. Leendert Hering, Sr., commander, Navy Region Northwest; Jim Stansell, PHSA North Cascades chapter president; and Cmdr. Amos Gallagher, EODMU-11 commanding officer.

The public is invited to attend, but will need to present valid photo identification at the gate.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at or call 675-6611

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