Surprised and outgunned by attacking Japanese warplanes on Dec. 7, 1941, Marine Sgt. John Hughes' defense of O'ahu came at the end of a bolt-action Springfield rifle.
Every time a plane swooped down low, spitting bullets and cannon rounds that chewed up American aircraft on the tarmac at Marine Corps Air Station 'Ewa, Hughes figures he got off three shots.
There wasn't much time to think. Hughes, who came in from California for the 67th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack, said it was "just excitement. Shoot, defend."
Four months later, the U.S. fought back all the way to Tokyo. The Doolittle Raiders, named after famed pilot Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, launched 16 lumbering B-25 Mitchell bombers off the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet in an improbable and audacious plan to strike back at Japan.
Thomas Griffin, the navigator in the B-25 "Whirling Dervish," lived through enemy fire on the bombing run and a subsequent bailout, at night, in a storm, when the bomber ran out of fuel.
The fighting spirit that was an initial defensive response on O'ahu and offensive retaliation against Japan is the theme of today's 67th commemoration of the surprise attack.
The ceremony hosted by the Navy and National Park Service will include wreath-laying at the USS Arizona Memorial.
Two waves of 353 attacking Japanese aircraft led to 2,403 American service members being killed and 1,143 wounded. Sixty-eight civilians also died. Japan's goal was to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet and prevent America from being a possible threat to the Empire's southward expansion.
The result was America's entry in the bloodiest war in history.
More than 2,000 people, including about 30 survivors, are expected at Pearl Harbor's Kilo Pier for a 7:55 a.m. moment of silence. The Pearl Harbor-based destroyer Chung-Hoon will render honors to the sunken USS Arizona, and military aircraft will fly over the memorial in a "missing man" formation.
Griffin, 92, one of the Doolittle Raiders, will be a keynote speaker along with U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Robert Willard. The theme is "Pacific War Memories: The Heroic Response to Pearl Harbor."
"What this year's commemoration is about is broadening the interpretation of Pearl Harbor," said USS Arizona Memorial historian Daniel Martinez.
That interpretation by the National Park Service has evolved from a focus on just the Arizona and its loss to a wider look at O'ahu as a battlefield.
memories of attack
The park service's mandate to tell Pacific war history is growing even more with President Bush's proclamation Friday of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and creation of a World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
"A generation of Americans stepped forward to fight for our country," Bush said.
A new $58 million Arizona Memorial visitor center and museum is being built and will tell more of the story of Dec. 7 and the Pacific war that followed.
The number of veterans from World War II, meanwhile, continues to dwindle.
Of about 60,000 military members on O'ahu at the time of the attack, between 3,000 and 5,000 are still alive, according to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
The Doolittle Raiders recently lost two more of the original 80 crew members, bringing their number to just nine.
Gone from the Pearl Harbor survivor roll, National Park Service officials said, is 'Aiea Heights resident George Brown, 86, who was on the damaged battleship Oklahoma.
At 5 feet 4 and 120 pounds, Brown was small enough to fit through an exploded hatch, which would only open about 12 inches. Others tried but couldn't make it through.
The National Park Service's Martinez last week accompanied Hughes back to the former Marine Corps Air Station 'Ewa, where the California man had been stationed at the time of the attack.
With Hughes were six of his children and relatives, themselves in their 40s and 50s.
Adjacent to the shuttered Barbers Point Naval Air Station, the long-forgotten 'Ewa Field — including a main entry road once traveled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt — is choked in a tangle of kiawe and weeds.
In two waves and other sporadic attacks, Japanese planes destroyed or damaged nearly 50 Marine aircraft parked on the tarmac. None got into the air. Machine gun and 20mm strafing gouges and burn marks are still visible on the concrete tie-down area.
"It started off just before 8 a.m. when I first saw this torpedo plane," Hughes said.
Martinez calls it "sacred ground."
"His fellow Marines died where we are standing," Martinez said. Four Marines were killed; 13 were wounded.
Hughes, now 89, was waiting for the morning paper.
He ran to the corner gate and into a guard shack, and told the sergeant of the guard to break out the ammo.
A handful of the Marines ended up near a pool under construction. Hughes, whose ship, anchor and USMC tattoos on his arms have turned into an unrecognizable and wrinkled blur with age, still was spry enough to bushwhack through the overgrowth and re-create his kneeling position photographed at the time of the attack.
Martinez said it's one of only about five photographs he's aware of showing men fighting back that day.
Hughes said he can't remember who took the photo. There were more pressing concerns.
"I knew right then we were in a war. A lot of us thought they'd follow up with a landing party," Hughes said. "Where was a good place? 'Ewa Beach. So we took a look at that to see what was going on, but nothing happened."
'it was their due'
Lt. Yoshio Shiga, the commander of nine Zero fighters, later recalled one Leatherneck at 'Ewa Field, who, oblivious to the machine gun fire striking the ground around him, stood transfixed, emptying his sidearm at Shiga's Zero as it roared past.
Shiga would describe that defiant Marine as the bravest American he had ever met.
Griffin, the Doolittle Raider, has his own unique place in history.
After training for the attack on Japan at Eglin Field in Florida, the Raiders set out on the carrier Hornet.
On April 18, 1942, the 16 bombers were forced to launch 650 miles from Japan — 250 miles farther than planned — when a Japanese picket boat spotted the U.S. ships.
Griffin, now 92, remembered the crew discussing the likelihood they would run out of fuel over the China Sea before reaching China after the bombing run.
"Everyone has to have a light at the end of the tunnel," Griffin said. "We talked it over, and we thought, if we run out of gas down in the China Sea and we see a ship, we'll ditch next to it and they'll take us aboard. We all had .45s (pistols), and if it was a friendly ship, we sail off with them. Unfriendly, we were going to take it over."
Griffin admits the plan "didn't seem too promising."
The "Whirling Dervish" was No. 9 in the takeoff sequence. Although the departure by previous planes technically gave those following more "runway" space, all the planes were moved up to the same spot for takeoff.
Griffin, who lives in Cincinnati, said the reason was that there only was six feet of wingspan clearance to the carrier's island on one side, and six feet from the landing wheel to the edge of the ship on the other.
"The longer the run on a flight deck that's weaving and bowing into the heavy seas, the more chance you had of running into the island, or to put the wheel over the left side," Griffin said.
The Doolittle Raiders succeeded in making their bombing runs, and all 16 aircraft made it out of Japan. An unexpected tailwind provided the boost necessary to make it over the sea. Most of the planes crashed in China and 11 crewmen were killed or captured.
Griffin and his crew bailed out over China in a storm at night, and he remembers his parachute filling and deflating and filling again in the wind.
The next thing he knew, a tree branch brushed his face, his chute snagged in some limbs, and his feet were on the ground.
The retaliation against Japan lifted American morale.
"We figured they were getting what was coming to them. It was their due," Griffin said. "We were successful. We all had assigned targets, and we all hit our assigned targets. At the time, you weren't thinking too much about history (being made)."
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.