Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Walter at Pearl Harbor, by Richard Foley - The Unz Review


My father Walter “was at Pearl Harbor.” Almost everyone in Youngstown, Ohio, back in 1941 soon knew about that. He had been a football star at Struthers High before turning down more than a half-dozen scholarships to Big Ten powerhouses. Instead, he enlisted in the Navy and forwarded the better part of his pay to support his father, mother, and five younger siblings, struggling through the Depression.

By the time he retired from his twenty-year enlistment in the US Navy, he and my mother Jane had decided to move our family from his last posting at Quonset Point naval station in Rhode Island to the idyllic mountains in Vermont. To build their dream house and live life more fully as civilians.

In 1959 during a family outing to Vermont to scout for potential house sites in the southeastern corner of the state, we had lunch at what we learned later on was the iconic Quality Inn in Manchester.

On the way out to pay for the meal, I tagged along as Walter stopped at the marble-topped soda fountain counter and chatted with the middle-aged waiter at the cash register. Walter eyed the waiter, gazed at a large painting prominently displayed behind the counter and then suggested that the fellow looked like a dead-ringer for the young soda jerk in that very painting. The waiter smiled and admitted that indeed, he was that young fella’. In fact, that Mister Norman Rockwell, the painter down in Arlington, had asked him to pose from behind the counter, recreating the time he had been listening to the radio on that fateful day, December 7th, 1941.

Walter just nodded in recognition, “I was there that morning.”

Although I had come to know some bits and pieces of Walter’s service in World War II, Walter had never mentioned Pearl Harbor. I was 12 years and found myself in shock. It would be another 35 years before Walter would refer again to that Day of Infamy.

And it would be another 64 years before I managed to identify that painting as Norman Rockwell’s ‘War News’ and begin to unravel its own mysterious role in the efforts to sell war through the dual strategies of myth-making — censorship and propaganda.

Walter, like so many of his WW II comrades, had never really talked about his war experiences while I was growing up. Like so many veterans who have survived wars’ multiple forms of evil, he lived in a prison of secret torment. Only Walter’s family and painfully few close friends acknowledged privately that my dad, the man who returned from the War, was not the same person they had known growing up. From the scattering of comments over the years, I gathered that consensus had it that Walter left Struthers, Ohio in 1939 at the top of his game. Fun? Walter was the life of the party. Telling stories, center of attention, just being himself. It didn’t hurt that your dad was — whoaa — handsome! Better looking than that Paul Newman, more like a cleaner, sharper version of Marlon Brando. Athletic? Unbelievably gifted and tough. A shifty halfback on offense, a hard-hitting safety. He went both ways, back when football was the real deal. He collected scholarship offers, all Big Ten schools.

And he had money. He owned a truck for delivering coal. That was during the Depression, mine you. Without him, we don’t know how his family got by. His dad only worked now and then. Six children. Your Aunt Micky told me once that if not for Walter, she and her sisters would never have had money for even one new dress. Walter chose the Navy over college because he could send most of his pay home. Steady, one month at a time. And the Navy boasted a couple of dozen football teams that were all tougher than those college kids’ squads. Men against boys, he’d laugh.

After putting in his twenty years, Walter retired from the USN and atrophied into the anonymity of civilian life, first in Vermont and following my mother’s passing, later on in Meadville, Pennsylvania. I watched Walter’s limited, uneven interactions with ‘civilians’, he would often respond with annoyance to everyday interactions with politely preoccupied neighbors, busy sales clerks or officious town employees; he would excuse himself and quietly grouse about why his generation had made its sacrifices.

Decades later during my conversations with Walter about current events, he would clench his jaw between short outbursts. More often than not dismissing the War in Vietnam as evidence of “the stupidity and arrogance of armchair generals.” When the gruesome fireworks of sophisticated US military might illuminated the television version of Persian Gulf War, Walter shook in head in pity for the Iraqi soldiers. “That’s not a real war. It’s a fake. A turkey shoot. The poor bastards don’t stand a chance. We’re there just to get at their oil.”

By the time the cancer had started squeezing the life out of his 74-year-old body, I had only collected bits and pieces of his role in “the action.” But over the course of my last summer with him in 1997, he opened up. A minute here, 15 minutes there, a couple of days later, four sentences there. So it went for 14 weeks, one continuous stream-of-consciousness with space for him breathing it out and for me to breath in all in, between the sequence of revelations.

The first of our exchanges revealed that on the morning of that Sunday in December back in 1941, Walter was serving as a non-commissioned damage control officer on the Battleship Pennsylvania. But he was better known on-board as the star halfback of the Pennsy’s Pacific Fleet championship football team. In fact, that morning he had dressed up to attend a special event on the sister ship, the Battleship USS Arizona — as the Arizona’s football team’s solo guest of a honor. He never made it.

The Arizona was struck by a 1,700 pound bomb that triggered a massive explosion that sunk the ship and killed 1,177 sailors and marines aboard. Walter lost more than thirty shipmates during the attack. Most to one bomb that came through one of the Pennsy’s imposing stacks. Luckily, she had been berthed in dry dock so the repairs went quickly and the great battleship sailed into the Pacific theater in time for the Battle of the Coral Sea, carrying Walter and those crew members who realized that that the entire Seventh Fleet and the garrisoned army air force at Pearl had been offered up to history as sacrificial lambs. They had been betrayed.

Dad, tell me more. “Pearl? That Sunday morning, I got up early, oh-five hundred hours, not that early back then, showered, shaved and put on my dress whites. The Arizona football team had invited me to their end-of-the-year banquet. Most respected opponent award type-thing since we beat them for the championship and I scored the two touchdowns. But halfway down the gangplank to the launch that would ferry me over there, I got this funny feeling. I thought it was because I felt that sitting down with the Arizona’s team might be disrespectful of my teammates. After all, our Pennsy team won because we were a team. So I had the launch signal the bridge to congratulate the Arizona team and let them know I wouldn’t be coming on board. I walked back to my berth, put on my khakis and grabbed some chow. Some of us were topside when the first planes flew over. As soon as we saw the markings, we looked at each other and said, “hell, we’ve been set up!”

“How did we know — it was no surprise attack. Listen, we were the real Navy, the old-time Navy, we were professional sailors. We knew the Japs had aircraft carriers, big battleships, heavy cruisers. And submarines. If you knew your stuff, you knew they were very capable sailors. They had been sailing the Pacific for hundreds of years. We respected their fleet. They had copied ours. That and we knew they were coming.”

“Just a few weeks before Pearl got hit, the Pennsy led a battle group out into the North Pacific. We were at General Quarters nearly the whole time. Know what that means? Four-hours-on, four-hours-off. Full battle gear, at your station, no matter how cramped. Then grab a few winks. A cook might bring you some hot coffee and sandwiches every so often. It wears you down.

But we all kept our eyes glued to the horizon or looking up for a signal from the lookouts up top. Looking for strange masts or their planes, looking for us. Pretty tense. We figured they would be on the lookout for us and they would have the firepower. Geez, huge sigh of relief every time a plane we spotted turned out to be one of ours returning. We had planes out there all the time, beyond the horizon. You couldn’t tell us we weren’t already at war.”

“Then we get orders to return to Pearl. Not from the Captain, not from the Admiral — it’s his flagship remember. But from Washington. Washington! When we get back to Pearl, our crew was stunned to find our nine sister battleships lined up at anchor in that narrow harbor. Just like some decoy ducks!”

They had emptied the ships. ‘Weekend pass? Take as many as you want. Two week pass? Yup. Wanna’ 30-day leave, wanna’ go Stateside? Sure. Your mom is ill? How about an extended emergency leave?’ You name it.”

“They put the Pennsy in drydock. They kept the other nine battleships up in that sliver of a harbor. No torpedo nets. Skeleton crews. You don’t just sail outa’ there like that. It takes time to build steam, you have to take on a harbor pilot before you make for open water. That would take as much as 36, 48 hours. Even then no destroyers left to run interference for us, to keep the subs away. The carriers were long gone, so forget air cover. But once we’re well out at sea, at least we’d have a fighting chance.”

“See, we were set up. They lined us up like sitting ducks. When a fleet’s in a war, it’s gotta’ be at sea! It can’t be sitting at anchor!”

“The hardest part for me, for anybody onboard, was that when we got Stateside, you couldn’t tell anyone what had really happened. I tried. But it was always ‘the dammed Japs this, sneaky Japs that. Pearl Harbor — the surprise attack. You couldn’t say a thing. It was unthinkable. What our guys died for.”

“The truth? They just covered it up.”

In retrospect, I thanked the gods that I had been preparing for that last summer with Walter. As a history buff I had trolled the literature for years to help get my mind around the Great Wars and the controversial aspects of America’s subsequent military and economic aggression, especially my generation’s war in Vietnam War. Along the way I found Admiral Theobald’s The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor and John Toland’s Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath. Enough information for me to see that the full story around the Pearl Harbor had not been reported, that the truth had been suppressed through a series of three carefully compromised hearings. In short, by the time Walter told his story, I was open, if not hungry to hear about his war experiences.

Among the many ironies that haunted my father’s life, Walter passed away before a comrade’s reasoned voice corroborated my father’s personal story, validated his theory about ‘Washington’s conspiracy’ to start the war, and echoed his pain at the betrayal. Robert Stinnett’s Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, a superbly researched book was published in 2000. Stinnett, a WWII Pacific Theater veteran, conducted an exhaustive, 17-year study of the pre-Pearl intelligence gathering networks — dozens of interviews with radio operators and reviews of over 200,000 original source materials and recently released FOIA records.

Stinnett proved unequivocally that Walter’s intuitions were straight on. President Roosevelt, with the support of a small group of confidants, including key military personnel, developed an eight-step strategy to provoke Japan into striking first in order to dislodge the American public’s well documented reluctance to engage in another war overseas. Despite the myth of Japanese “radio silence,” US cryptographers listened to and deciphered hundreds of the enemy’s military and diplomatic transmissions. US intelligence tracked the Japanese Task Force across the north Pacific from the time it set sail from Hitokappu Bay on November 26th to its strike position just west of the Classical Composer Seamounts on December 5th. FDR and his inner circle withheld this information from Admiral Kimmel and General Short, the officers in charge of Pearl Harbor.

The deception worked to perfection. The US forces “got caught with their pants down.” Dramatic still photographs and filmed images filled newsprint and theater screens, and the American majority’s isolationism flipped to seamless patriotic outrage overnight. On December 8th Congress declared war on Japan (only one dissenting vote) and three days later Germany and Italy honored their commitment to defend their allies.

Nor did FDR and his inner circle limit their action to nuanced suppression of information. On numerous occasions Washington went as far as to directly intervene and compromise the ability of US Pacific forces to confront the enemy. Washington did, in fact, order Kimmel to break off from Exercise 191 on November 24th — the tense search that Walter had endured at General Quarters and that had positioned his battle group over the exact same Seamounts from which the Japanese launched their planes two weeks later.

Walter, like so many of his WW II comrades, never really talked about his war experiences. Like so many comrades in arms who have survived wars’ multiple forms of evil, he lived in a prison of secret torment. What no one knew was that for 55 years my father would also wrestle with the terrible knowledge that the attack on Pearl Harbor was not a surprise.

There’re more chapters to Walter’s stories of war, but at least I’ve respected his account as a participant, a witness to the events on that Day of Infamy.

It took 59 years before Stinnett cracked the Pearl Harbor myth of an unprovoked ‘surprise attack’ and revealed FDR’s orchestration of initial deceptions and subsequent cover-ups — a litany of shredded documents, kangaroo court hearings, intimidated witnesses and the standard suppression of secrets under the “national security” seal. A process that continues to this day to reinforce that myth, despite the wealth of yet more corroborating information. Evidence that investigative reporters have presented in numerous publications, in print and online, but those efforts have been ignored by mainstream media.

The history of these cover-ups attests to the ability of the Federal government and mainstream media to dismiss objective research and investigations that undermine manufactured myths — as the stuff of crazies and their conspiracy theories,

Not that Stinnett’s impeccable research and subsequent investigations have tarnished, let alone destroyed the Pearl Harbor myth. But what if we Americans had come to grips with FDR’s decision to provoke Japan into an overt act of aggression? How would we, as legitimately informed citizens, have regarded subsequent investigative reporting and so-called conspiracy theories in general?

Would the American public have bought the subsequent mythic distortions that justified:

  • Vietnam War (the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin incident).
  • the first Persian Gulf War (invasion of a sovereign state).
  • the ensuing UN sanctions against Iraq (WMD’s).
  • the fast-tracked response to the attacks on 9/11, the declaration of the unending Global War on Terror that spun out lethal, mind-boggling aggressions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
  • the multi-trillion dollar ‘investment’ of US taxpayers monies in delivering terror across swaths of the globe in the name of America’s sovereign right to national defense.

That said, as I write this piece in September, 2023, I have continued to follow additional, definitive evidence revealing President Roosevelt’s strategies to ensure Japan’s first strike, to orchestrate the US involvement in WW II and to replace British as the world’s number one imperial power.

In 2023, we American civilians find ourselves captive to a planned permanent war economy based on perpetual warfare.