2 EyeWitness Accounts

PearlHarbor08

James Willis Downing

Lieutenant, US Navy, USS West Virginia

Lt. James Downing

Lt. James Downing

James Downing enlisted in the Navy with the understanding that war would eventually come.  He was hosting a breakfast for his church group on the morning of 7 December when the US part of the war began and he began to hear the explosions.  An antiaircraft shell landed in the backyard and James immediately drove down to the harbor.  His ship, the USS West Virginia, had been counter flooded and the USS Oklahoma, he could see, had already capsized.  The radio stations were broadcasting whatever information they had.

As postmaster, Mr. Downing knew his shipmates well and had access to their addresses.  After surveying his ship, he did his best to memorize the names of his wounded crew members so he could write to their families and describe what had happened.  Working close to a Navy tanker that was loaded with fuel, he felt he was living minute to minute, expecting it to blow up.

20131206_103503_Pearl-Harbor-survivor-James-Downing

James recalled the Japanese pilots flying overhead like a swarm of bees and of being strafed by pilots so close he could see the color of their eyes.  “Survival instinct was kicking in.  The war became pretty personal at that point.”

He waded through oil that stood a foot deep on the ocean after rescue efforts which left him coated from head to toe.  Later that day, he headed to the hospital where he walked up and down the rows of beds collecting names and brief messages from burn victims to send to their families.

Sailors watch theUSS Shaw bombing, Ford Island Air Station

Sailors watch the USS Shaw bombing, Ford Island Air Station

Lt. James Downing remained in the US Navy throughout WWII and continued to serve during the Korean War.  He was 100 years old when he gave an interview for the 70th Anniversary in 2013.  His dates of service were 1932 – 1956.  This story is condensed from his original interview with the Veterans History Project; Library of Congress.

Click on images to enlarge.

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James Mitsuo Furukama

James Furukama

James Furukama

James Furukama was a 16 year old civilian on 7 December.  He was working as a construction laborer and had fallen off a scaffold the day before and was on his way to the hospital to have his stitches checked out when he saw the planes flying overhead.  James thought, like many, that maneuvers were taking place and he continued on his way.  Then, he heard the bombs and saw the smoke.  As he approached the hospital, the nurses thought he was a casualty.

When the smoke cleared, James worked with the construction crews to clean up the debris and help restore the damaged, bombed out and burned buildings.

[There were so many excellent photos in Mr. Furkama’s file, I had to make make a gallery for some.]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

James went on to be an Army Interpreter three years later, Service # 30113361.  He served with the 34th Infantry Regiment/24th Division HQ/ Language Detachment/441st Intelligence Corps/10th Army.  He received a Bronze Star for his heroic efforts in rescuing patients after the MASH unit he helped to set up was bombed during the Okinawa invasion.  His dates of service were 1944-1966, he retired as Major after 22 years.

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Political Cartoons – 

anti-third term for FDR

anti-third term for FDR

anti-third term for King Roosevelt

anti-third term for King Roosevelt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUT !!!

4 December 1941

4 December 1941

IF THE “CHICAGO DAILY TRIBUNE”   KNEW ______   HOW DID EVERYONE FEIGN SURPRISE 3 DAYS LATER?????

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Farewell Salutes – 

George Ackehurst – Thornhill, CAN; RC Army, WWII7388b_To-Honor-Ones-Country-Wreath

Frank Baker – GRanville, AUS; RA Army, WWII, 2/20 Battalion, POW

Rosella Gillis – Big Flats, NY; WACS, WWII, typist & USO

Raleigh “Bud” Fletcher – Coquille, OR; USMC, WWII & Korea, pilot

Frederick Havens – Riverside, CA; US Navy, WWII

Michael Lemme – Lake Worth, FL; US Army, WWII, Purple Heart

Neville Mudford – Matamata, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 4213337, WWII

Michael Ruckman – Collinsville, IL; US Army, Vietnam, (aurthor of, ‘Our Days Are a Shadow’)

Everett Shearburn Jr. – Kirkwood, MO; US Navy, WWII, PTO, Ensign, 7th Fleet

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A Blogger’s passing –  I am very sorry to inform the readers That Bill Hamilton, the smiling, Santa-look-alike who wrote as the FlaHam @ coping with copd, has passed away.  I learned this from the Chatter Master.

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 4, 2014, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. 100 years old at the time he gave the interview and as sharp-witted as a body could be to tell it. Wow!

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  2. Great historical first account storys on both James.
    It really is a credit to American history, that young guys like James Furukama served.
    Emu

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    • Thank you, Emu – Furukama was born American and fought American. I felt bad that he was forced to hear the tales of POW atrocities as he translated. Thanks for doing so much reading and commenting, Ian. I’ll be looking forward to your next posts.

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  3. Thanks, G.P. for 2 more examples ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they grew up during an era when doing the right thing was expected. I may be wrong but it seems to me that, in large part, by an attitude of selfishness. Oh, how I hope I am wrong.

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  4. Both great first-hand accounts. It’s amazing what these sort of stories do to bring that era to life. Thanks, GP.

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    • Fraser, author of ‘Safe and Quartered out Here’ says something in his book to the effect – history can tell you that a hundred men went up a hill and after the battle, only half were left. But – it doesn’t tell you how hard it rained, how they had been marching for days or how hungry they were; how their 5lb rifle now weighed 30 pounds, etc. IMO, it takes both the statics and facts along with the personal tales to get the complete story. Jeez – aren’t you glad you asked – you’ve got me rambling…. O_o

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  5. Always enjoying hearing the personal experiences of brave young men. How could they act like this attack was a complete surprise after that Dec. 4 headline?

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  6. “Survival instinct was kicking in. The war became pretty personal at that point.” I’ll bet. Great post. –Curt

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  7. Excellent choice of personal accounts, gpcox. Indeed, Mr. Downing’s humanitarian character shines through like a spotlight. To have thought to memorize fellow sailor’s personal information so as to write to their parents…

    Furukawa was a typical representative of Hawaiians of Japanese descent. While he was drafted (ASN starts with 3) and did not experience life in the camps that mainlanders had, I’m sure he wanted to prove he was not the “enemy”, even in Hawaii.

    Excellent find on the paper dated December 4th!

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  8. Thanks again for these first hand accounts – very special. These two men just applied their existing skills to help in very practical ways and yet their contributions were enormous.

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    • Like I’m always saying, no job is too small; each person who does their job adds to a chain of success. I appreciate you coming by and reading these posts, Carol.

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  9. The ordinary stories would never make it into movies or most history books, but it’s mind boggling to consider how many there must have been. Thanks for finding these to share.

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  10. Great stories, James was amazing. It would be nice to think we would all do the same in his shoes today. Lots of compassion, there. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  11. The Furukama photos are quite interesting.

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  12. I love hearing the stories. Thanks for bringing them

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  13. More ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. Wonderful accounts.

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  14. I greatly appreciate all the work you put into your posts. You take the vague concept of war and humanize it showing the brutality, bravery, and devastation it rains upon all. This is a great glimpse of a horrific day in American history. Thank you.

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    • You are very welcome, Tina. Rattling off statistics every post, just doesn’t cut it. Thanks for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. When I taught high school history, I found the kids were able to relate too and empathize with the people in history if I personalized it instead of just listing names and dates. Exploring the individual stories using first hand accounts make our past part of our present and hopefully avoid repeating the same mistakes in our future.

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  15. FDR takes a good shellacking on this blog.
    I feel he deserves most of it.

    The ends justified the means…

    On the other hand, did he have any other alternatives to stop Hitler and thus help turn the tide?

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    • You know I’m not qualified to even speculate on that. The cartoons are about him having the gall and narcissistic view that he deserved a third term of office! I had enough to make a slide show of them, but didn’t want to overdo it.

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      • narcissistic is the key word

        Me, myself, and I as my father would say when I was a young child.

        He was one, and I am sure he did not know it.
        I learned about it much much later in life. I was 59!

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  16. A+

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  17. It’s a very personal thing, war.. and more people need to come to that realization. Great post as usual, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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