Fayette County

In their own words: Herald-Leader readers remember Pearl Harbor

The battleship USS Arizona toppled over into the sea after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A total of 1,177 officers and crewmen were killed. DEC. 7, 1941 FILE PHOTO | ASSOCIATED PRESS
The battleship USS Arizona toppled over into the sea after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A total of 1,177 officers and crewmen were killed. DEC. 7, 1941 FILE PHOTO | ASSOCIATED PRESS ASSOCIATED PRESS

Scott Barker, Morehead

My dad, John D. Barker, was a Pearl Harbor survivor and passed away last year at age 93.

Dad was a native of Elliott County and volunteered for the Army in 1940, serving until 1945. Sgt. Barker was assigned to the 251st Post Artillery Anti-aircraft unit at Molokai near Pearl Harbor, in charge of an 18-man gun crew. On Dec. 5, the crews were ordered to stand down from their alert. All the guns were cleaned and lined up for inspection, and about 90 percent of the gun crew received weekend passes.

Dad entered the mess hall about 7:30 Sunday morning. He heard planes overhead, but assumed they were from Hickam Field. Moments later, a Japanese Zero strafed the mess hall, and bullets went through Dad's plate, shattering everything in front of him. He and the others tried to form up outside, but strafing from the Zeros made it impossible. He did see a man grab a Browning Automatic Rifle and shoot down a Zero that crashed at sea.

Dad always mentioned that if they would have been allowed to stay on alert and ready for the attack, the result would have been totally different.

Janice Jurgensen, Lexington

My mother, Adeline, met my father, Reuben, a young Army officer, at a USO dance at Fort Knox in 1939. Mom recounted: "The USO brought busloads of young women from Louisville to dance with the soldiers every week." Dad proposed marriage on Dec. 6, 1941. Then the next day was the attack on Pearl Harbor, and America was at war.

Dad was scheduled to be shipped out to China at the end of December. They married on Dec. 26, 1941. It always was a great source of pride to my mother that Dad proposed to her BEFORE Pearl Harbor because "many couples got engaged BECAUSE of the war."

Lela Sizemore submitted by (grandson) Daniel Harrison, Georgetown

Lela Sizemore Byrd was a senior in high school in Hazard when she heard on the radio that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. She recalls listening to the radio with her family because, "That was the only way we had to learn about things back then."

The next day at school she recalls that the students at Hazard High School were gathered together in the auditorium and listened to Roosevelt declare war on Japan. Everyone was upset and worried because many people had relatives in the Navy that she knew.

Lela had two brothers and one brother-in-law in the service, and she would soon be involved as well. After she graduated high school in 1942, Lela wanted to help with the war effort. So, as a young Kentucky girl who had never been farther than Southern Ohio before, she went to work at the Willow Run automotive factory in Ypsilanti, Mich. I asked my grandmother if she was scared, nervous or if people thought she was crazy. "Everyone wanted to do their part to help," she said.

I am still amazed at her bravery. She went with two sisters from Hazard, and they lived in dorms for a while until they found a small apartment.

At Willow Run, a converted Ford automotive plant, Lela helped to run wires in the belly gun turret on the bottom of B-24 bombers that were assembled there. She, along with many other brave women, helped staff the factory in the absence of many male workers who were off fighting the war. She remembers many things about the planes and her work there.

After the war Lela came back to Kentucky, where she became engaged to Carlen Byrd, who was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne who made the jump the night before D-Day into Nazi-occupied Normandy.

Lela says she can't remember any Japanese people in Hazard before the war, but she has a special relationship with one Japanese person today. My wife, Michiko Harrison, is from Toyohashi, Japan. We are expecting our first daughter, who will be Lela's half-Japanese great-granddaughter. "Hating people doesn't help anything," Lela said. Lela's story of bravery and dedication to her country is inspiring, but to see her lovingly interact with my wife — a native of a former enemy — is amazing. I hope that her story can inspire others as it has inspired me.

Jeanine Scott, Frankfort

My father, Albert Luciana, was stationed at Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which was his 24th birthday. This is his verbatim account of that day:

"Pearl Harbor — Hickam Field — took direct hit on my bed in the barracks. I was outside watching the Japs bomb Pearl Harbor. Lost my car to Jap strafing. Spent that night in the woods. No heroes, just a bunch of scared kids. Next day, gassed up airplanes for search mission to find Jap fleet. Luckily, it was long gone."

He was later a crew chief on a B-17 and was stationed at Bellows Field "on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii" and then went to Midway, the South Pacific, air-dropped ammo and food to Marines on Guadalcanal and then spent the next year based on Esperito Santos in the Solomon Island area flying missions in search of the main fleet. He was then sent back to the States and trained on B-29s and then sent to India for flights "over the hump" which was over the Himalayas back and forth between India and China.

He died in March 2010, at the age of 92.

Ruth Mace, Winchester

I wish I had asked for more information when I had the chance. The Pearl Harbor stories were always part of our family lore, but they were told like oft-repeated fairy tales, and to me, one of the baby boomer daughters, that's what they seemed like. I never asked for real details

One thing I always knew that others may not realize is that there were families in danger at Pearl Harbor that morning, too. My mother, Mildred Robinson Ingram, used to tell how early on Dec. 7, 1941, she heard the "ping" sounds on the patio of their home at Hickam Field and thought they were raindrops. When she realized they were bullets, she ran to gather in her children. One of my older brothers was riding his bicycle down the street and had to take shelter at a neighbor's house.

That morning was the start of four years of single-parenting for my mother. The dependents were quickly evacuated, and as a young wife with four children, she would accompany them and several other motherless children back to the States on an ocean liner. It was an uneasy journey with daily drills and dim rooms because of the blacked-out windows. She traveled across the U.S. from the west coast and waited out the war in her hometown of Williamsburg, Ky.

That same morning, my father, George Ingram of Gatliff, Ky., a first lieutenant at the time, had left early for work to assume his duties as Officer of the Day. His shift was to start at 8 a.m.

When he got to the operations building, the OPS officer came in from the tower to tell them the tower was monitoring an expected flight of B17s on its way in, but it was running late. History knows the planes they had on the radar were not the ones they were expecting. Unaware of what was about to happen, my dad began the change-of-duty process. He signed the forms that said he had counted the weapons, counted the keys and accounted for all the prisoners.

At 7:55, just as he was signing in, the bombing and strafing started. He stopped in mid-signature (He had to come back later that day and finish the report) and sounded one of the many alarms blaring out warnings. He then ran to the airfield and, according to the letter we have from the office of Brigadier General W.E. Farthing, this is what he did: "In order to secure essential information from an incoming plane, Lieutenant Ingram, rather than subject another man to the hazards of direct fire from enemy planes, himself successfully performed the mission. He then immediately organized and led a group of men to disperse aircraft, directed operations for extinguishing fires, and personally transported wounded soldiers to the station hospital in his automobile. His alertness and keen judgment were instrumental in saving many lives and much valuable government property."

But that's all we know. The letter goes on to thank him for his "courage, leadership and devotion to duty." He never seemed to want to talk about that day or any of his other war days, both there or in the Central Pacific. Whenever anyone would ask him what he did to earn his medals on Dec. 7, his usual reply was, "I threw myself on top of a general's wife." Like so many of the men in my family, he kept his war stories to himself. The details we do know are mostly from an old interview he gave to the local newspaper and from that letter that accompanied his medals, a letter we saw only after his death.

Richard D. Howard, Georgetown

My parents, John and Lena Howard, and four of their eight children (my older sister Mildred, myself, my brother Charles, and the youngest brother, Joe) were living on their farm in Clover Bottom, 13 miles south of Versailles. That Sunday morning was a cool, mostly sunny day. After lunch Charles and I had walked down Mundy's Landing Road to play football with some neighbor boys in a cow pasture. About 3 p.m. we headed home to find several neighbors at our house hovering around our radio. My mother and father were very silent and calm, while their guests were upset and nervous.

The news about the Pearl Harbor attack hit us hard. My oldest brother, John Allen, was stationed at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Bach and another brother, Elmo, was aboard the USS Arizona. Needless to say, our family was very worried about their safety. Friends and neighbors would stop by the farm or see us in town and ask about the boys. Our school teacher asked about them every day.

In mid-January my parents received a telegram from the Navy informing them that Elmo was missing in action and presumed dead. John Allen finally got a letter out later that month, but it was so censored that all we were able to find out was that he was OK. It would be after the war was over that he was finally able to tell us what happened that day.

His ship was out on maneuvers with the aircraft carriers and some destroyers, cruisers and other ships. They were on their way back to Pearl when they encountered a strong storm. They veered to the south, which took them several miles off their course to Pearl and saved them! Early on the morning of the 7th as they were headed back to Pearl they received a radio message that Pearl Harbor was being attacked, so they turned again to the south, away from Pearl, in order to save the ships.

My mother believed for over 20 years that Elmo was alive. John Allen looked for him at every hospital he could get to for the remainder of the war.

John Allen served in the Navy from 1939-1946. Our brother Jim joined the Army in 1943 and served until 1946. I joined the Army in 1944 and served until 1946. Charles served in the Navy from 1945 to 1946 and was recalled to serve in the Korean War from 1951-1956. And Joe served in the Navy from 1952-1956.

Earl and Marion Ballinger, Lexington (submitted by Son Robert Ballinger, West Chester, Ohio)

Seventy years ago on Dec. 7, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Earl Ballinger of Lexington, at age 22, decided to join the United States Armed Forces. He tried unsuccessfully to enlist two times. On his first attempt he was rejected because of vision and on a second attempt he was rejected because of being underweight. Finally in early 1942, he was accepted on his third attempt and inducted into the Navy.

Earl was assigned to the Landing Ship Tank (LST) 391 and deployed to the European theater. He served on the LST 391 from 1942 to 1945. Earl participated in the Mediterranean campaign in Tunisia, North Africa; Palermo, Sicily; and Salerno, Italy. In 1944 he was relocated to England in preparation for the Normandy invasion. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the LST 391, as part of the allied invasion force to liberate France, made a diverted landing on Utah Beach, because of the extreme resistance at Omaha Beach.

After the invasion was a success, Earl remained in England transporting troops and equipment into Europe for the remainder of the war. Earl Ballinger was discharged from the United States Navy after World War II ended, having attained the rank of Quartermaster First Class. In 1949 he married the former Marion Stafford who remains to this day his wife of 62 years.

Marion Stafford Ballinger was also active during the war effort. After graduation from Henry Clay High School in Lexington, she began working at a Sylvania Navy war plant making radar tubes. The plant was located at the current site of Rupp Arena.

Marion and Earl were introduced by Earl's sister who was also Marion's best friend during Christmas 1944, while Earl was home on a 30-day leave. Marion met Earl again one week after he was discharged from the Navy at a University of Kentucky football game in the fall of 1945. After her graduation from UK, Marion and Earl were married at Broadway Christian Church in 1949. They are both now happily retired for many years and still living in Lexington. They remember how very much Pearl Harbor affected their lives and shaped their future.

Retired Col. Ron Williams, Georgetown

The young man was only 16 when he graduated from high school in Gonzales, La. He was the first child of Tom and Alice Irna Williams. It was WWI and his father had gone away to war when he was born in 1918. I guess you could say he was a war baby.

His mother had a college degree, which was unusual in those days for a country lady. His father had only an eighth-grade education and was a farmer. As he grew, his mother and father encouraged him to get an education.

His sister would be the next child born, and the only girl in a family of nine children. As the children started growing-up, the boy, Adrian Delton, became known as the best shot in his part of the state with a rifle. Because he grew up in the swamps of Louisiana and used hunting to feed his large family, his shooting skills put many meals on the table.

In 1938, Adrian entered Louisiana State University (LSU) to get a college education. He was followed by his younger sister Burma. There wasn't much money in the Williams household for two children in college, so Tom just told Adrian he would have to work his way through school. He did all kinds of odd jobs, but just could not make enough money for the tuition.

He didn't know what to do until he heard about a special program the United States Navy had just started. It seems he could spend just one year in the Navy and get his college paid for, similar to the GI Bill today. He went to talk to his dad with some of his younger brothers. They felt like so many other young men of the day that the possibility of war was getting closer and closer.

When Adrian asked Tom what service they should join, his father said, "When I was in WWI, I was in the Army Infantry and walked everywhere I went; boys, just get into something you can ride." None of the Williams boys who served during WWII would join the Army; everyone went into the Navy or Coast Guard. The Navy also had a buddy program, so Adrian decided to join the Navy with his younger brother Brian so they could be together.

The ship they were assigned to was the USS Arizona, one of the Pacific Fleet's large battleships. Adrian was assigned to a gun turret, and his brother was designated a radio operator. They both loved the Navy and the duty in Hawaii and the idea that soon they would be discharged and able to go to college at LSU.

The world was turning faster than anyone expected and war continued spreading across the globe. President Roosevelt felt the need to extend those soldiers and sailors on their one-year enlistment. That is why the "uncle I never knew," my dad's older brother, died for his country on Dec. 7, 1941, running to his gun battery. He was just a young country boy that wanted a college education but couldn't afford it.

My father joined the Navy in October 1941, just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was the third child in the family. Although he would become a naval aviator and spend 28 years on active service, he didn't travel to Hawaii. His brother's body was never recovered, and he lies buried with his shipmates in Honolulu Harbor.

His brother, Brian, was the lucky one because he was in Radio School on the mainland when the attack took place. He got back several days later and was reassigned. He was then placed on the team that helped break the Japanese code during the war.

In 1986, I was assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, as an Army signal officer. After many years, I finally talked my dad into coming over to see the Arizona Memorial. As a Navy Admiral escorted us out to the site I asked my dad why he had never come before.

He told me, "I could always imagine he was still out there somewhere if I didn't go to the monument." As we laid the wreath and the bugler sounded Taps, we both saluted and I told my dad his brother, my uncle, was somewhere special, he was right here with both of us! My dad died Nov. 1 of this year at the age of 90. Soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsman who served in WWII are dying by the thousands every day. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and during WWII we had a generation of them.

Karen Gentry

My dad, Guy Overbey, was an MP in the Army in Honolulu for more than 6 years. He was due for discharge in Jan. 1942, but that changed on Dec. 7, 1941. He was having breakfast at Fort Shafter when the attack began. He and some of his buddies thought that it was just more maneuvers until the explosions became more frequent and louder. That is when they headed outside to see what was happening. My dad climbed onto the roof of the mess hall to get a better look. He had a very good view of Pearl Harbor from there, and he knew that it was not a practice. He said that Japanese fighter planes were flying just above his head, so close that he could see the pilots in the cockpit. It was evident that they were indeed under attack.

He said that most of that day was total chaos. Citizens abandoned cars in the middle of the streets, and panic was widespread. Being an MP, he was immediately summoned to duty to patrol and attempt to control citizens as well as other military personnel. In the days and weeks following the attack, he guarded Japanese prisoners, some of whom had lived on the island for years. He also served on escort ships, taking those prisoners, Japanese island citizens, to internment camps in California, even women and children.

He has many mementos from those days including pictures and articles from the Honolulu Star Bulletin. He enjoys sharing his experience with young people and has spoken on several occasions to elementary and high school students in Western Kentucky where he resides. He had his 90th Birthday this past August and continues to live at home with my mother, who is 88.

He returned home uninjured and worked as a dragline operator in a strip mine for over 30 years. He has mentioned recently that he cannot believe it has been almost 70 years since he was at Pearl Harbor.

The Herald-Leader asked readers to share their remembrances of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Dozens of you did. Here are some of those stories. For additional stories, go to Kentucky.com.