Up until 7:48 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, it was hard to imagine what was about to happen in what looked like paradise.
“I’d finished breakfast, I went to the office on the second deck,” said Tom Shook, about his routine aboard the USS Phoenix, a light cruiser stationed at Pearl Harbor. “I was reading the paper and I heard the gunfire, I thought, ‘That’s unusual in the harbor.’ And then came the big explosions on the battleships.”
The attack by the Japanese Imperial Navy was underway. Shook’s battle station was in the bottom of the ship. With the mayhem going on outside, it was not a good place to be.
“Maybe we would be the next ones hit – we didn’t know,” remembers Shook.
The Japanese concentrated on the battleships, with great success.
“I looked out the porthole and the rear of the Arizona was directly in our eyesight,” he said. “We were moored to a buoy. I saw some bodies laying in the water. That’s not a very good sight. You knew they were dead.”
Shook not only survived Pearl Harbor but the rest of the war, fighting in the Pacific.
“You just live from day to day, hoping you survive,” he said.
In the six years between his enlistment and the end of the war, Shook only got home once. So, when Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender was finally announced on Aug. 15, 1945, Tom was in Borneo with a smile on his face.
“Oh, we were happy,” he said. “We were happy it was all over and we were going back to the states.”
See Shook talk about his Pearl Harbor experience in this edition of the Buckley Report.