Story and photo by Marianne Salza
Although it has been more than seven decades since the surprise Japanese strike on American soil at Pearl Harbor, World War II Navy veteran Don Tabbut still vividly remembers the devastating attack.
On Dec. 4, Tabbut shared his story about the Dec. 7, 1941 raid to Curtis Guild Elementary School fourth grade students, who were amazed by an old photograph of Tabbut in his uniform.
“It almost seems impossible that the attack by the Japanese that prompted the President to declare war, happened 74 years ago,” said Tabbut, who was stationed on the Hawaiian Islands as a radio operator in 1941, one month before the invasion.
Tabbut, who was 19-years-old, was asleep in his barracks when the sounds of explosions awoke him. From there, he could see the USS Arizona get hit multiple times by torpedoes. The bomb had broken through the deck where the ammunition was held, splitting the battleship in half.
Within 10 minutes, the USS Arizona had sunk before his very eyes.
Oil was spilling from the battleship as sailors evacuated like “moving blobs of oil,” so slick with blackness that only the white of their eyes and teeth could identify them as they swam to shore.
“The Japanese planes were everywhere, and they were hitting us with everything they had,” explained Tabbut, who is a Winthrop resident.
Wounded soldiers were being laid on mattresses against the walls of th
e sick bay, where the Japanese mistakenly thought the Americans were storing their weaponry.
“They were just moving the last injured man into the ward and closing the door when a Japanese plane flew over and dropped a bomb onto the building,” said Tabbut, who remembers three soldiers chasing after and shooting the plane with pistols.
Hundreds of Japanese planes attacked the American naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii. During the two hour barrage, the Japanese destroyed nearly 20 American vessels, including eight battleships, and more than 300 airplanes. Some 2,000 American soldiers and sailors were killed, and another 1,000 were wounded.
“I’m glad I came. I’m thrilled to be with you,” Tabbut said to the class. “It is something I have never forgotten.”