Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pearl Harbor Day

I'm pretty sure there are columns like this one By Ken Newton that I found in the St. Joseph News-Press in just about every news paper in the country today. Please don't skip the one in your local paper. Time is doing what Japan couldn't. Our Pearl Harbor survivors numbers are dwindling. With each one we lose we lose a personal story, a little bit of history. After you read that story take a little time to quietly think of those that didn't make it through December 7, 1941.

From the December 7, 2006 St. Joseph News-Press.

65 years on, the memories still burn

Ken Newton
Senior Reporter/Columnist

The day that would live in infamy began with Dean Kreek topside, trumpet in hand, standing alongside 17 other musicians ready to play morning colors.

Planes buzzed Ford Island, a common sight as training flights flew day and night over Pearl Harbor. But the plane that got the musicians' attention approached slowly and low, barely above the mast of the USS Nevada.

On its side shown the emblem of a rising sun.

"When that plane was alongside, we could see that," Mr. Kreek recalls. "We knew what it was."

Over the next two hours, the Holt County native bore stretchers of wounded and battled fires aboard the Nevada. And, 65 years ago today, he stood eyewitness to America's first fight of World War II.

The surprise attack by the Japanese killed nearly 2,400 Americans, wounded about 1,200 more and sank or damaged 19 U.S. ships. Today, in a nation still rattled by the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, the unprovoked airstrikes in Hawaii provide the closest historical comparison.

Mr. Kreek's horn took him to the South Pacific. From his home in Oregon, Mo., he can point out the window to the place he grew up. He played in the school band and attended a one-month citizen military training one summer break.

Later, a recruiter came to the school and won over the teenager. "When I saw the Navy training film," he says, "I thought that would be better than walking like we did in the Army."

At age 18, he enlisted, listing his preferences as torpedo school, then music school. A bandmaster liked what he heard in a tryout, and Mr. Kreek headed for the fleet music school in San Diego. Eight months later, in April 1941, the country boy arrived in paradise.

Hawaii offered pleasant temperatures and nice duty. The fleet set sail for training on Mondays, headed back to port on Saturdays. Sailors had the balance of the weekend free. "It was a good life," Mr. Kreek says.

But the Japanese knew this schedule, knew the Sunday morning lethargy left the fleet vulnerable.

The Nevada moored at the north end of Battleship Row, nearest the doomed USS Arizona. After the ship's band played "The Star Spangled Banner" that Dec. 7, Mr. Kreek and his crewmates went to battle stations. (He stopped first to stow his trumpet, though seawater would ruin it as the attack played out.)

The seaman's battle station was three decks below the ship's forward turret, but smoke drove the sailors out. Stretcher bearers began collecting the wounded and hauling them to the fantail, where doctors got them ready for evacuation.

Hit by armor-piercing bombs, the ship found itself ablaze. Mr. Kreek and others were dispatched to carry mattresses from the sleeping compartments. Doused with water and applied to the flames, the mattresses helped control the fires.

With history taking shape all around, the Nevada crewmen kept their heads down and followed their training. "We didn't have too much time to think," Mr. Kreek remembers.

His parents would not know if he was alive or dead for two weeks.

The Nevada holds a distinction as the only battleship in Pearl Harbor to get under way during the bombings. Thirty minutes after being struck by an aerial torpedo, the ship made its way into the channel and headed through the heart of the attack. Japanese dive bombers took aim. Crippled finally, the ship grounded itself and sank in shallow water.

(Fifty of the 1,500 members of the Nevada crew died in the attack. Two of the crewmen received Congressional Medals of Honor for their gallantry.)

Mr. Kreek and his comrades spent the night on the Nevada. Taken ashore on Dec. 8, they were eventually dispatched to other ships. The Oregon man served three months on a tug, then eventually took a spot on the USS New Mexico, which sailed to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska and then to the Gilbert Islands in the South Pacific.

"We went from cold to hot," he says.

During a hiatus in his sea duty, Mr. Kreek spent time at the naval base in Pensacola, Fla. There, he began dating an Alabama girl. He married Mary after leaving the Navy, and they remain wed after 58 years. They have three children.

Back in Holt County, he farmed 10 years before going to work the next two decades for Feeney Construction. His work with veterans organizations continues, and the trumpeteer played "Taps" at countless observances and funerals through the years.

Passing years diminish numbers in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, in which Mr. Kreek has long been active. Last month, the Kansas City chapter decided to curtail activities. Not enough members.

For this reason, Mr. Kreek doesn't mind repeating the story of that day. Posterity needs its retelling. The lesson remains relevant.

"Keep your armed forces ready for any eventuality," he says.

I would like to thank every Veteran that has ever served in the United States military.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.


Blogger American Crusader said...

Great post. I agree that 911 bears similarity with Pearl Harbor but I wish this country still had the fortitude it did back then. There are people today we still don't believe that we are at war with Islamic fundamentalism. They see Iraq as an isolated event and not the frontline of this war.

9:43 AM  

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