We stopped for a moment to process what we were seeing when we were scattered by a low, screeching plane, pearl grey with a red dot, bearing down on us. I could see the fur lined jacket on the pilot as he turned his mustached face towards me and scowled. We sprinted to the harbor, which was now under bombardment, to man our posts. Training took over as I instinctively grabbed a shore gun and fired wildly at the hundreds of swarming Zeroes. I'd be surprised if I came within a hundred yards of any of them. An officer, wearing only his cap and boxer shorts, marched by sucking furiously on a cigar as an aide was handing him a shirt and some shoes. “Lead left, lead left,” he barked as he scurried toward the command center. I trained on a low flying dive bomber, leading left, barely missing when the gun stopped firing. The belt was exhausted so I leaped onto the ammo box afoot and tried flipping it open. It was padlocked. I looked around and saw men futilely hacking away with hammers and pieces of metal pipe. I tried prying open the container with a small pocket knife when a blast knocked me on my ass. The West Virginia was ablaze and launching huge fireballs into the sky. It was going to sink. Smoke obscured the sun and filled the air with a nauseating mixture of gun powder, diesel oil and what I would soon discover was the smell of burning human beings.
Disoriented and bruised, I started to make my way to the airfield. Where the hell were our guys, anyway? What's going on? I passed the hospital and saw a steady stream of wounded heading that direction. First there were men holding their blood spattered limbs, then those being helped by others, and finally stretchers being dragged by a collection of sailors, nurses and civilians. I grabbed a handle of one when an officer screamed, “We got this”, and I was directed to help gas up planes. I looked down at the injured man, who was wailing for his mama, while he held in his hands what appeared to be the majority of his small intestines. My face drained as I turned and heaved. Dear God, please don't let me die today.
I managed to pull myself to my feet as rivers of sweat poured down my back. When I reached the hangars I saw row after row of shattered aircraft. I helped in the vain effort to douse the flames, first with hoses, then buckets. Minutes seemed like hours. The skies quieted. Three hours had passed but I couldn't tell you what I did for most of them. I sat on a rock and sunk into my hands. Tears cleared narrow avenues of dust from my face. I watched them drop onto the gravel and disappear. I had seen the brutal consequences of a world gone mad from the front row. My life as a carefree young man was over. We were at war.