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PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW GILBERT WALLS
GW: Gilbert Walls
IO: Ivan Osorio, interviewer
GW: I came out of CCC in '39 -Civilian Conservation Corps-
Nothing doing, jobs were getting kind of lean, so dad kept
asking, "get a job today, get a job today." I got tired of
hearing that so, finally, I thought about joining the service.
Went down and tried the Navy; they took me in at 21 bucks a
IO: Were you stationed in Pearl Harbor all that time?
GW: Yeah, I went from Newport, Rhode Island, took a train clear
cross country and boarded the USS Phoenix in Merritt Island Navy
Yard around Oakland, California;. and after that we cruised to
Pearl. There we picked up a troop transport -not a troop transport-
second civilians to the Philippines before the war. Then in
September '41, before the war, we took approximately 400 civilian
workers -poor souls- out to the Philippines. And they were there
when the Japs got there, so I don't know what happened to them.
After that we came back to Pearl -after we made that excursion
over to the Philippines-, and then we were there during the
attack. We were at Pearl Sunday morning.
IO: Were you awakened? What were you doing?
GW: I was topside. I was a boot crew. I was the bailhook on the
captain's gig, and we were tied up to the starboard boom. I'd just
come over to get a fresh pail of water to go down and wash off
the canopy on the gig. And then we see the planes come over. They
had big meatballs on the wings; that's what they called them
GW: Yeah. "Goddamn," one fella said, "it's a heck of a time for
attack on a Sunday morning. Look, they're even dropping sandbags!
Splashes!" He turned this way and I said, "Look at the meatballs!
They ain't our planes! They're Japs!" That's when we first knew
about it. A few minutes after that we see the battleships go up
in smoke and all that. That was the beginning of it, the first
time we knew they were there. We had awnings up over the deck to
keep the sun from getting the tar out of the teakwood tied up
there. We had to take knives and cut down the tarps so we could
get to the ready lockers so we could get the guns ready. We had
no firing pins in the guns; we had to get the firing pins out of
the ready locker -and we had the ammunition in the ready lockers-
before we could fire. All that took about five minutes, before we
could fire. We got on our way on auxiliary steam. We'd keep steam
in there for ship utilities, and that's what we got on our way
on. We finally got a good head of steam once we got out of the
channel. We passed the Arizona burning, and in front of us was
the Nevada. She (the Nevada) was the only battleship to get under
way. She was headed out and got a bomb hit in the stern, lost her
steerage, and she ran aground on what used to be Barber's Point,
but now I think they renamed it Nevada Point. To keep from
sinking in the channel the Nevada ran aground purposefully. We
were in back of her. We passed her and went on out before they
shut the sub net. We went on out. We were out for three days;
then we came back in to see what damage was done. We didn't know
on our way out; we knew there was a hell of a lot of damage, but
we didn't know the extent of the damage until we got back in.
I0: You went out immediately?
GW: Oh yeah, We got on our way and just got the hell out of
there; that's what we had to do.
IO: What did you do over the three days you were out?
GW: Looking for the enemy, whatever was out there. We were on
four-on/four-off -for two days- watch. It was like condition one
all the time. We were looking for somebody, but they were gone by
then, naturally. We were the biggest ship that got out. There was
another cruiser, a Raleigh class, she got out, and a bunch of tin
cans got out. But we were the biggest cruiser that got out.
Nobody else got out.
IO: And you had no contact by radio with anybody?
GW: You mean with the Japs?
IO: No, just with any base on the mainland.
GW: Oh, yeah, we kept in contact. And when we came back in we saw
the damage done, it was six inches thick of oil floating all
around the harbor.
IO: By the time you came back in, it was the ninth or tenth?
GW: We came back in about the middle of the week, maybe Wednesday
or Thursday. That would be around the tenth or eleventh. We saw
motorboats dragging a line pulling a body. There were all kinds
of thing in there, so much oil in there you didn't know what was
going on. There were no carriers in there; we were lucky. There
were eight battleships in there They were all tied up by Ford
Island; they were all perfect targets. They (the japanese) came
in from the East and headed for the West and got that whole row.
The Nevada, she saw action later on. She got fixed up, But the
Arizona, the Utah, they were just gone. The Utah was a target
ship to begin with. They dropped sandbags on her. She was an old
World War I battleship. She rolled over on her side. So did the
IO: The Japanese hit it (the Utah) thinking it was a regular
GW: Yeah. They just came in.... If the carriers had been there we
would have been out of luck. They'd have hit every carrier in
there. We were lucky; we were tied up in the back of Ford Island.
They didn't concentrate on us. So we were lucky to that extent.
I'll show you a picture in a while...I've got a book in there
that shows us coming out past the Arizona. Well, before Pearl....
I'll show you two pictures: one of the ship with portholes and
one without the portholes. They must have expected something
because when we came back from the Philippines, at the end of
September, little barges were coming along the side and they had
already-cut steel plates and they were taking our portholes out
and putting steel plates in there and welding them, closing all
our portholes up, every one of them. Then we went out on maneuvers
out there off Pearl and there was no smoking topside -this was
about a month or two before Pearl Harbor (was attacked)-, no
smoking topside, no movies. Went out there for two weeks, and we
come in for a week: we go out for two we come in for a week.
This is maneuvers: gun drills, shoot at the other ships' tow and
sleds, all kinds of maneuvers out there.
IO: Were they planned beforehand?
GW: They must have expected something 'cause we were really
tightening down like we were getting ready for something. If it
was peacetime we needed the portholes. They plugged the portholes
up. We went out to sea. There was, like I said, no movies, no
smoking topside at nighttime; they were just getting you in
training, getting you into habit. We had nightfire drills. We
were shooting starhells in the air, the targets would light up,
then we would concentrate on the target underneath the starshells.
And all this...we did that a solid two weeks (when) we'd go out.
IO: This was all during peacetime?
GW: It was in peacetime, yeah.
I0: There was no explanation given?
GW: No. We didn't question; we were just going through heavy
training. All our ships at Pearl were out there doing that. We
had maneuvers. We had one fleet against the other fleet. We
wouldn't fire at one another; we'd try to zigzag and outmaneuver
one another. Our subs were out there; our carriers were out
there. We were getting ready for something. But they never told
us. We were a lot better trained by doing that, regardless of
whether we lost a lot of lives at Pearl -I think it was over two
IO: So you think FDR knew?
GW: Somebody knew something was going to happen, because they
were really putting us through the grind out there. It was two
weeks out, one week in. We'd come in and take aboard more
ammunition, more stores.