Among my 260 interviews with World War II veterans was that of Dick Girocco. Dick from Milwaukee enlisted in the Navy in mid-1941. He was at Pearl Harbor during the attack.
Here is an account of his experience from my book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans:
A cacophony of unfamiliar, horrendous noises on Ford Island caused Seaman 2nd class Richard Girocco and other seamen from his PBY squadron (‘patrol bomber’) to run outside of their aviation hangar. It was approximately 0800 hours on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Ordinarily, the seamen would be resting on their bunks. Today, they had been ordered to prepare to move equipment from Pearl Harbor to Perth, Australia.
The sight of planes in the sky didn’t immediately alarm them. “We thought the Army Air Corps was dropping flour sacks for practice,” said Girocco.
As he and the others continued to gaze upward, they noticed with growing dismay the machine gun fire erupting from the planes. The young American seamen realized the planes were part of the Japanese Imperial forces. Their pilots were firing on Ford Island. Pearl Harbor was under attack!
Upon landing at the U.S. territory of Hawaii in November 1941 Dick Girocco, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had thought he was in paradise. “There was lots of green water and sand,” he said.
Note: The Republic of Hawaii became the Territory of Hawaii to the U.S. in 1898. In 1959, residents of Hawaii voted in favor of statehood, making Hawaii the 50th U.S. State.
Previous to enlisting in the Navy, Girocco had worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps for six months at a forestry camp in Wisconsin. “I earned $30 a month,” he said. “I sent $22 home for my family.”
After completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, Girocco had attended aviation machinist school at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Seattle. In Hawaii, he was transferred to a duty station aboard the USS Saratoga patrolling the Hawaiian Islands.
His first impulse on that sunny Sunday morning was to run back inside the hangar. Realizing he would be exposed as a target, he chose a closer means of rescue. Several feet of pipe lay close by, part of a project the Navy had begun of transporting water from the coast to the hangars.
Scrambling inside a section, Girocco watched in horror as a series of bombs hit the USS Shaw. The destroyer had been sitting in the Navy yard dry dock. When the ship exploded, Girocco was sent flying, landing hard in a nearby ditch.
“I couldn’t see anything after that, but could hear the noise and feel the concussion on the ground,” he said. When Japanese bombers set off ammunition in Hangar 6, naval personnel were again in shock. “It seemed all we could do was wait for instructions from anyone,” he said.
Girocco later learned that prior to attacking Pearl Harbor, Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft had bombed the nearby U.S. Naval Air Station on the east coast of Oahu. As a result, 27 Catalina PBY Seaplanes – known as ‘flying boats’ — were damaged and unable to go on the attack. “This was devastating as they could have followed the attackers as a defensive maneuver,” he said.
When quiet finally descended over the area, Navy personnel quickly set to work, trying to establish order. A hangar was made into quarters and a barracks along Battle Ship Row was converted to a hospital for shrapnel wounds and other injuries.
For days the uninjured like Girocco looked for survivors in the oil-filled waters. “We did rescue flights with PBYs,” he said. “They could land on water and retrieve survivors.” Rubber rafts were used to retrieve dead bodies.
News about the unmitigated attack spread to Washington DC and other parts of the U.S., most of whom had no idea where or what Pearl Harbor was.
American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, furiously declared war on the Axis powers of Japan, Italy and Germany on December 8, 1941.
They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans contains 34 stories of men/women from every branch who served.
Thanks to all of our veterans who have served our country!