The Beginnings of War

Jeremy Gustman, guest writer

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Porter are you trying to get someone killed!” the drill sergeant screamed violently, ripping the M1903 Springfield rifle from my grasp.
“No sir,” I muttered underneath my breath, too embarrassed to speak.
“What was that, Maggot?” the drill sergeant asked, gradually making his way over to me.
“Sir, no, Sir!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
By this time, we were face to face. If I twitched, I would have accidentally head-butted him, so I just stood still, scared to move. I could see veins popping out of his head that seemed as if they were going to burst. His face had turned from pale to blood-red and I thought he was going to kill me. My mind began racing. How did I get to this moment? What was I even doing trying to join the military? Why should I even have to listen to this guy, he didn’t do anything for me? I didn’t ask to be here. I’m not cut out for this.
“Porter! Are you listening to me?”
I regained composure and replied “Sir, yes, Sir!”

* * *

I slowly walked back to the barracks with some of the other recruits. As I walked I could hear them laughing and making fun of what had happened a few hours before. I fell asleep while at the shooting range. My rifle slowly lowered to where it was aimed at my shooting partner. If it weren’t for the D.S. screaming at me, I may have pulled the trigger.

Just months earlier, I had been at home with my mom and dad watching the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Now, I was shooting up targets and training my butt off to keep up with the rest of the recruits. I remember when I received the letter that got me into this mess. The long envelope read, “Greetings. The President of the United States and your neighbors have selected you to be drafted into the Armed Forces to protect the country. . .” I remember the tears rushing down my mother’s face as I read it aloud. Choking back tears, she prayed to God that there would be another way, any other way. There wasn’t. I packed light because I knew I wouldn’t need anything where I was going. We all knew that it could be the last time we would see each other again but thought it best not to get emotional. I gave them each a hug and headed out for the Great Lakes Naval Center.

It was getting close to 9 p.m. and that meant lights out. The only thing I could think about that night was my family. I missed them so much and after what had happened today I realized that I may never see them again. All it would take was for one slip of the trigger and I would be dead. I removed the thoughts from my mind and tried to get as much sleep as I could. 4 hours.

I woke up to the faint whispering of my bunk mates. I was probably only asleep for a couple of minutes, at least that’s what it felt like. As I sat up to get out of bed I was thrown off of my bunk and slammed to the floor. Blood rushed from my body to the cold, hard floor as I was beaten with what felt to be metal poles. I could see nothing. My body became numb to the blows and the pain started to fade. Is this it? Is this how I’m going to die? Then I blacked out.
When I woke up, I was in the infirmary with the drill sergeant at my side.
“Look son, you don’t belong here.” he said with a soft voice. “Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work. We have decided to send you to a naval base off the coast of Hawaii. It will be more of your type of work.”
My type of work? What was that supposed to mean? I looked at him as he walked away. Those final words were more painful then all of the beating that I had the night before. When I regained my strength, I was shipped off to the base in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor, it was called.
When I arrived it wasn’t so bad. The weather was better and the people were nicer. That was, until I reached my final destination, the base’s main office. I walked in the doors to find that it was extremely hectic with people shouting orders and scrambling across the floor. I walked up to the man at the front desk and told him my name and asked if there were any specific orders for me. He shuffled a few papers and then looked up at me saying, “Says here that you are a good for nothing wannabe soldier who, if permitted to combat, will most likely kill your allies. That leaves us with a few positions, one of which needs to be filled. You will be placed onto the USS Arizona under the head of the janitorial staff. The last guy to have that job killed himself so let’s keep it positive,” he said with a slight grin. I did not know if he was joking or just trying to scare me. If I stayed to find out I probably would be trampled by the crowd so I left.
I arrived at the harbor knowing nothing about boats. They all looked the same so I asked one of the men walking by if he could direct me to the USS Arizona. He politely pointed me in the right direction and hurried off to his regular duties. I continued on.
I marched right on board and pretended like I knew what I was doing. It smelled like fish, I hate fish. The idea of living on a ship for the next couple of years made me sick. I walked up to one of the seamen and introduced myself. Once we were acquainted, I asked him where I could find the head of janitorial staff. The directions he gave, yet vague, I followed. “Down the hall, then a right, then the third door on the left,” I remembered as I walked. When I reached the final door I was met by an older gentlemen who took one look at me and gave me everything I would be needing for the next few months; my uniform and a mop.
Time passed and I began to get good at my job. It was December 7, 1941, marking my 3rd month working there. I woke up that morning and followed through with my routine which consisted of eating a quick breakfast and hustling to my closet.
As I was gathering my things, around 8:00 a.m., alarms began to sound. “This is not a drill! I repeat, this is no drill!” I was so confused. What was not a drill? Were we about to leave the harbor? I looked out of my small closet window and saw floods of soldiers running to their stations as if we were being attacked. “God help us,” I said underneath my breath, too scared to use my full voice. I tried to find out what was going on but everybody was too zoned in to notice me. I could hear planes above and bombs impaling the water around us.
“Don’t just sit there, move!” an officer yelled. I started to make a run for the deck. I would do no good sitting on a gun trying to shoot down fighter pilots as they dropped bombs over my head. As the light of the outdoors emerged into my sight my stomach dropped. The sky was a bright red with clouds of smoke all around us. Then all of a sudden I felt a tremor in the ship. We were hit. At first I didn’t think anything of it but then there was a second explosion, a bigger one. I knew what it was. A bomb had smashed through the ship and ignited the ammunition magazine causing the second explosion. The flames overpowered me and I knew this was the end. Looking around there were probably a thousand of us trapped inside. A thousand, who would never see their families again.
Works Cited
Berry, Henry. This is no drill. Berkley Books, 1992. Print.
“Pearl Harbor.”, n.d. Web. January 24, 2018.
“Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.”, n.d. Web. January 24, 2018.
“Face of Battle.”, n.d. Web. February 1, 2018.
“9 iconic quotes from Pearl Harbor, World War II.”, December 6, 2013. Web. February 6, 2018.