60 years later, Pearl Harbor pilots recall attack that plunged America into WWII

Wednesday, December 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ Zenji Abe recalls ``cold chills went up and down my spine'' as his squadron of dive bombers from the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi broke through the clouds and entered a storm of anti-aircraft fire.

Still wearing his pajamas in his haste to get airborne, Phil Rasmussen recalls aiming several plane lengths ahead of a Japanese fighter before cutting loose with his P-36 pursuit fighter's 50-caliber machine gun.

Abe, Rasmussen and other pilots who were in the air that day spoke Tuesday at the Pearl Harbor 60th Anniversary Conference, part of a week of observances of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that killed 2,390 and plunged America into World War II.

Earlier Tuesday, 20 survivors from the sunken battleship USS Arizona, along with survivors from other warships, were saluted by sailors in dress whites as they entered the USS Arizona Memorial visitors center.

The Arizona represents ``a nation with its guard down,'' Rear Adm. Robert T. Conway Jr., commander of Navy Region Hawaii, told the survivors. But the USS Missouri _ anchored as a memorial behind it and on which the Japanese surrendered in Tokyo Bay in 1945 _ represents ``the answer, the resolve,'' he said.

The Navy had expected about 550 survivors and relatives to attend the anniversary ceremonies. But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that number has swelled to more than 2,200, Conway said.

At the conference, Taisuke Maruyama, a torpedo plane pilot from the carrier Hiryu, told how he was in the first wave to sweep down over Pearl Harbor, closing in on Battleship Row.

``Coming in at low altitude, we saw American sailors on the decks of the cruisers, looking up in shock and wondering what was going on,'' he said.

Rasmussen, a member of the 46th Pursuit Squadron of Wheeler Field in central Oahu, said had just gotten up that Sunday morning when he saw a plane drop a bomb.

``This huge orange blossom came up in front of the hangar amidst the airplanes, and as the plane pulled up I saw the meatballs on the wings and I knew it was Japanese,'' he said. ``I pulled on my boots over my pajamas, put on a web belt and .45-caliber pistol with it and I raced down the flight line to see if there was anything I could do.''

He and three other pilots got into P-36s and taxied to a bunker where they were loaded with ammunition, Rasmussen said.

The four American planes managed to shoot down 10 invaders.

But the shooting at Pearl Harbor didn't leave with the Japanese planes, as Navy veteran Jim Daniels recalled. Daniels was an F-4 Wildcat pilot attached to the carrier USS Enterprise, whose one-day delay by bad weather kept it from being in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.

After a failed effort to hunt down and attack the Japanese carrier task force thought to be fleeing south of Hawaii, the Enterprise headed back to port. Daniels and four other Wildcat fighters were ordered to fly ahead Sunday night and land at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.

``The first four planes in the echelon turned on their lights, put their wheels down and started their break,'' Daniels said. Soonafter, ``every gun, everybody that had a rifle, every ship, everything in Pearl Harbor opened up on us _ friendly fire.''

``They didn't know we were coming. They thought we were the third wave of the Japanese,'' he said.

The first pilot was killed when his plane was shot down after it tried to land, a second plane crashed into a small hotel, which burned. A third pilot bailed out, landing in a tree with a broken back, and a fourth crashed on Ford Island and survived. Daniels was number five.

On Friday, Daniels plans to speak at the USS Arizona Memorial visitors center during a 60th anniversary commemoration ceremony. The ceremony is to begin with a moment of silence at 7:50 a.m., the time the Dec. 7, 1941, attack began.