Green Country Pearl Harbor Survivor Remembers Attack 69 Years Later
Tara Vreeland, News On 6
MUSKOGEE, Oklahoma -- One of Oklahoma's own says the chaos of the Pearl Harbor attack is something that is unforgettable.
First Class Seaman Jim Gailey was only 17 years old serving in the Navy at the time.
The night before "the day that will live in infamy" Gailey watched the movie Hold Back the Dawn while on board the USS Helena.
"Little did we know that when the dawn came, the attack came with it," Gailey said.
The next morning, Gailey was coming up from the deck of the ship when a torpedo hit.
"It created a wave and I was holding onto the ladder. As I started up, it pulled me back but I had a good hold on the ladder," he said.
A mere handful of men near Gailey survived the blast. About twenty did not. "Shipmates. You look out for them. They look out for you."
"I don't remember being scared. I was just mad. Because we had no idea that this was going to happen," Gailey said.
Gailey ran to his battle station and loaded the machine gun.
"The only thing I can come up with is it was like bumble bees. Planes were coming from everywhere," he said.
And the United States Navy took aim.
"We knew the Japanese insignia. Meatballs we called them. Red balls on the wings," Gailey said. "You were so busy loading and looking. We were looking for targets. There was a lot of hollering going on. Yay we got one you know."
Gailey says he doesn't remember the noise. But he remembers what he saw. The fire on the water, the smoke, and the explosions.
"There was a destroyer in the dry dock away from us. It blew up. It was a terrible thing to happen but it was a beautiful explosion," he said.
Twenty years of naval service. Marriage, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. A lifetime of memories. But it's that one day.... when Gailey was just 17-years old.
Gailey will turn 87 years old this month. He and his wife Theresa now call Muskogee home.
At the end of the interview Gailey showed a family portrait with all of his children and grandchildren. He said if he hadn't survived Pearl Harbor, none of those people would exist.