He'll Always Remember Pearl Harbor
Dec. 7, 1941, is a day still living in the memory of one Pinehurst man, who makes it his business to remind others every year about the attack on Pearl Harbor
President Roosevelt said the Japanese attack was a "date which will live in infamy" in his famous request for a declaration of war - the last time a president asked.
R.S. "Swede" Boreen, 90, has a vigor that belies his age, a handshake like a vise, memories carved in stone. He remembers Pearl Harbor because he was there. It's been 69 years since he dove into its waters from the capsized hull of the battleship Oklahoma as fighters and bombers from the empire of Japan sank ships and shot survivors.
He has made it a lifelong task to recall and honor lost and living from that infamous day.
"I like to quote from a poem written by Cornelius Douglas," Boreen says. "For all who died that Sunday morn, we bow our heads and pray. For them, please grant them peace; for us ... a better way."
He was 21 years old that morning, working as usual in the ship's pay office. The day before he'd gone with the paymaster and two Marines to draw more than $100,000 in cash. At 7:55, the alarm sounded.
"General quarters! General quarters!"
Boreen ran to the office window and looked out just in time to see the rising sun on the wing of a Japanese Kate bomber that had just released its first torpedo for his ship.
"I could see the pilot's face, grinning, as he went by," he says. "There were 40 that came - in droves of three - dropping torpedoes loaded with 450 pounds of explosives."
About then, the first of nine torpedoes hit the Oklahoma. Boreen ran for his battle station down on deck three where he'd be supplying ammunition. Once there, he began closing watertight doors. Just as he hammered in the final twist-over lock on one compartment, a torpedo hit a fuel tank in the next.
Boreen was suddenly covered with oil. Water poured through a hatch to the deck above. Time to go. He made his way up a ladder to deck two, where he saw two shipmates, one wounded. Somebody was about to lock down the hatch to the main deck above. Boreen headed for its ladder.
"Hold it! We are coming up!" he shouted, and beckoned to the others. "Let's get out of here!"
They weren't coming.
"Swede, this ship is only going to go over so much," one said. "We're staying here."
When he came up from the third deck, he heard the ship had taken three torpedoes. He climbed over onto the starboard side just in time to see the flagship go.
"Just then, I saw this one big bomb hit the Arizona. I saw the Arizona go up," he says. "Flames rose hundreds of feet. It was reported later that we took nine torpedoes. We were moored outboard of another ship, the USS Maryland, on 'battleship row.' My eyes caught a Zero coming in, so I jumped in the water."
He took refuge behind the barrier separating the battleships, watching in horror and revulsion as a Japanese plane swept through twice, firing point blank at helpless figures on deck or struggling in the sea.
"As the fighter passed, a lot of my shipmates that came up were on the hull or in the water," he says. "Every one of them was killed."
Boreen made it to the Maryland and climbed aboard. Sailors there helped him clean off the oil and gave him clean clothes. He looked at the watch on his wrist. It had stopped at 8:04 a.m.. Only nine minutes had passed since he saw the grinning bomber pilot pass by.
Every year, he tries to write something, make a speech, do what he can to make sure people really do "remember Pearl Harbor" - as the old song asks.
Boreen saw the second attack at 8:45 a.m. from the Maryland. After a couple of hours, Oklahoma survivors were ordered to report to Ford Island, the small isle in the harbor that is still home to administrative offices. When he got there, he found he was the only survivor from the pay office.
He's gone back to Hawaii a number of times with other veterans of that attack to pay honor to the lost. After the war, on Dec. 7, 1945 - five years to the day after the attack -Boreen once more boarded the Oklahoma.
"I went aboard my old ship and had my picture taken by the same ladder I used to the main deck," he says. "That brought back vivid memories. I had reported for duty to the Oklahoma on Dec. 17, 1938, and served on her until that fateful day 69 years ago - the day that changed not only the course of history, but the courses of many or our lives."
In the long years since then, Boreen has collected every detail of the raid.
"There were 94 ships of the U.S. Navy in Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning," he says. "Of these, 70 were combat vessels: eight battleships, eight heavy/light cruisers, 29 destroyers, four submarines, along with many other auxiliary vessels."
The island of Oahu had half a dozen airfields in 1941, where 347 different types of airplanes stood clustered - wing tip to wing tip - stationary targets sitting in the early Sunday morning sun waiting for destruction.
"The U.S. Pacific fleet would have been crippled, but for one thing," Boreen says. "Their three aircraft carrier battle groups were at sea that day."
A Japanese battle force bound for the Hawaiian Islands departed northern Japan on Nov. 26, 1941, preparing to attack Pearl Harbor even though talks were still going on in Washington, D.C., between the U.S. and Japanese envoys. They were under strict radio silence and traveled 3,394 nautical miles from the islands of Japan to Oahu, following an oversea route that took them far to the north of normal shipping lanes.
The Oklahoma had been at sea doing target practice for days prior to the attack.
"We were operating off Molokai on Friday, Dec. 5, firing our big 14-inch guns," he says. "The 'Okie' had 10 14-inch guns with five forward (turrets one and two) and five aft (turrets three and four). Turret number two shot the target out of the water, and word was passed that we would stay underway for the weekend. A new target from Pearl would be available on Monday."
The Oklahoma remained at sea that Friday evening under "darken ship" procedures - running lights only. Its two destroyer escorts reported they were picking up sonar sounds of submarines in the area; they knew they were being followed.
A change of orders sent them back to Pearl in time to be torpedoed.
"Early Saturday morning, Dec. 6, we received dispatch orders to proceed into port and prepare for 'Admiral's inspection' on Monday, Dec. 8, by Adm. Kidd and his staff from the battleship Arizona," he says. "That was our flagship for Battleship Division 1. We got into port around 8:30 a.m. and moored outboard of the Maryland in berth F-5, Battleship Row."
Quiet Morning Shattered
It was a quiet Saturday in Honolulu. Sunday was different.
"The Japanese leader of the first wave fired two flares from his rocket pistol, one at 7:40 a.m. and another at 7:50 a.m., to begin the attack," Boreen says. "He shouted into his radio, 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) - code words which told the entire Japanese Navy that the attack had begun, and they had caught the U.S. Pacific fleet by complete surprise."
Five minutes after the -second flare, the first wave swept in - 51 VAL dive bombers, 43 Zero fighters, 40 Kate torpedo bombers and 49 high-level bombers, 343 combat aircraft in all - took but an hour to complete their mission.
Their approach had not gone entirely without notice, Boreen discovered. He found that on the northern tip of the island two Army privates assigned to man the Signal Corps' new mobile radar station at Opana had seen a huge blip fill their screen.
"At first, they thought something was wrong with the controls," Boreen says. "Judging by the speed, the blip had to be a huge flight of planes 139 miles to the north. They phoned an alert to the information center at Fort Shafter, but there was nobody at the plotting table to take their information."
A few minutes later, the officer in charge called back to say he thought they were B-17s coming in from the West Coast.
"Soon after the Pearl Harbor bombing started, a call came into the headquarters of the Hawaii Medical Association," Boreen says. "The voice just said, 'Pearl Harbor! Ambulances! For God's sake, hurry!' Within minutes doctors and -volunteers stripped the insides of over a hundred delivery trucks of every description, equipped them with previously prepared stretcher frames, and were speeding to the scene of the action."
Women of the motor corps, in every conceivable type of vehicle, were -carrying men to Pearl Harbor. The three-lane -highway was an inferno. Army trucks, official and unofficial emergency wagons, ambulances, Red Cross cars and hundreds of taxis rushed officers and men to their battle stations, -screaming up and down that six-mile road.
Boreen's ship had been hit. It was estimated later that nine Japanese type 91 aerial torpedoes (each packed with 452 pounds of high explosives) struck the Oklahoma. It took the ship less than 15 minutes to capsize to an angle of 151.5 degrees, he says.
Of 1,379 men aboard, fully a quarter of its officers and a third of its enlisted personnel were dead or missing. Only 35 bodies out of the 443 casualties were ever identified. About 408 are buried in mass graves in Hawaii National Cemetery in Punchbowl Crater - marked as unknown.
Boreen says there were 2,403 casualties in all: Navy 2,008; Army, 218; Marines, 109. In addition there were 68 civilians killed, and 1,178 wounded.
One new discovery pleases him. Researchers from the Hawaii Undersea Lab found one of the midget submarines about three miles off Pearl Harbor under 1,200 of water where the destroyer USS Ward had sunk it at about 6:45 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. The researchers say their discovery is evidence the U.S. military fired the first shot and inflicted the first casualties against the invasion from Japan.
"Strangely enough, the first shot of the battle of Oahu came from an American ship instead of a Japanese aircraft," he says. "The first bloodshed was Japanese."
Boreen often thinks about what could have happened had Japan and Germany succeeded.
"I have a last tidbit of information," he says. "Yellowing paperwork from World War II indicates Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany tentatively agreed to take over the United States and Canada with Japan getting Alaska, Hawaii, and the mainland's West Coast back to the Rockies."
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