My paternal grandfather, Stan Johnston, was a survivor of Pearl Harbor stationed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. And yes the Navy had a ship named the Enterprise. It boldly went where no sailor had gone before.
Sadly I didn’t know my grandfather very well. He and my grandmother divorced when my dad was still in high school, and when I was a kid we didn’t visit him that often. My memories of him are few, and they mostly involve him taking me by the shoulders and looking down at me with deep regret in his eyes, as if he wanted to be closer to us grandkids but didn’t quite know how.
I also remember the smell of smoke. Grandpa Stan was a smoker, and whenever I enter a home where the scent of cigarettes has buried deep in the upholstery of the furniture, I think of him.
He wasn’t a perfect man. He married five times and made quite a few mistakes in his life. But at some point he made my grandmother (whom I love dearly) a very happy woman, and for that I owe him something. My dad also loved him deeply, despite my grandfather’s flaws, so I wish I knew him better than I did. He died while I was serving a mission for the LDS Church in Venezuela. By then I had matured quite a bit, and I’d like to think that I would have made more of an effort to know him had he survived a little longer.
He was very young on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor. I know little about his experience, but this morning my dad sent me this account.
Seventy years ago your Grandfather Stan was being bombed and strafed at Bishop’s Point on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. He gave an interview to a local paper about that morning. He spoke on how he and others were on shore duty, responsible for opening the submarine gates each morning so that ships could enter and leave Pearl Harbor. Around 7:30 that morning he and the others were in the mess hall having breakfast. When they began hearing explosions they grabbed their rifles and ran to open the gate. Bombs dropped all around them. He said that Japanese fighters strafed then at “telephone pole” height. I asked him later what they did. He said that they fired their rifles at the planes when they could, but that they mostly threw themselves down on the pavement and tried to dig foxholes is asphalt with their fingers. He also said that each time a bomb landed near them they were lifted of the ground and slammed back down.
I asked him how many times that happened. His reply? “Too many.”
So today I salute my grandfather, whom I didn’t know well but who, for at least a few terrifying moments in his life, fought to protect every freedom I enjoy seventy years after the fact. When I see him again, I’ll shake his hand for that. And then we’ll find a good place to sit down because we’ll have a lot of catching up to do.