Pearl Harbor Diary: A Calm Sunday Abruptly Shattered
By Irvin Molotsky,, 6 December 1998
As the years pass, the number of survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor dwindles. The strike, on the quiet Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, killed 2,403 of the 65,000 people stationed at the base.
One survivor, Henry A. Lachenmayer, of Oxon Hill, Md., recorded his thoughts and observations, including rumors that turned out to be false, in his diary the next day. Lachenmayer says he wrote his account on a Royal portable typewriter, long since gone, which he kept in his berth aboard the battleship Pennsylvania. He says he made the entry on pages that he stored in a typing book that zipped closed.
Lachenmayer, who moved to the Bronx from Germany as a child, was a 22-year-old musician second class at the time of Pearl Harbor. He doubled as a medic when bombs raked the Pennsylvania, but not before having the presence of mind to stow his trombone. Lachenmayer, now 79, retired from the Navy in 1960 after having risen to the rank of band master aboard the battleship Wisconsin.
Following are excerpts from his diary, adapted from a longer version that appeared in 1991 in his local newspaper, The Enquirer-Gazette in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Henry A. Lachenmayer, 1941Henry A. Lachenmayer, 1998
The account begins on a typical Sunday aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock:
The events about to be related here are still somewhat vague. Perhaps due to the fact that one could and would not imagine them in one's most horrid and imaginative nightmares.
They bespeak a calamity that will long be remembered by an unsuspecting people, half-asleep but now by the grace of God and the mailed fist, awakened.
They speak of the Blitz on Pearl Harbor on the bright, happy and peaceful morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
It was Sunday again, you might say just another Sunday, but to us in the fleet it meant more than that, it meant the one day of the week that granted us true relaxation, the one day apart from drills maneuvered and work of all sorts. A day for church, and a day for play.
We, the band on the Pennsylvania, had a strenuous day on Saturday. A landing force inspection in the morning and a dance band contest in the evening which, incidentally, we won. We were still speaking of this same contest the next morning as we heard band call go at 10 minutes of 8 and we proceeded to the quarter deck in preparation for morning colors. . . .
At exactly three minutes of eight, looking over toward the Naval Air Station on Ford Island, we could see a group of planes proceeding gently from a high altitude and then leveling off about 150 feet from the ground.
To our unsuspecting eyes it was just another drill, though it was somewhat peculiar that they would pick Sunday morning for maneuvering. Not until we saw the flames shoot out of the large hangar at the head of the small island did we realize the significance of the situation.
Lachenmayer scrambled to reach his battle station, where he helped put out a fire ignited by an explosion in the main deck and in the case mate, the enclosure where anti-aircraft shells were stored:
The bandmaster marched us back on the double and the officer of the deck screamed for all hands to man their air defense stations. . . .
A plane that looked half like a Stuka and half like one of our own dive bombers was just leveling off and I could see the bombs dropping out of its bottom. It was a silver-gray plane with a reddish gold ball or sun painted on its side. I still don't know how I got my instrument in my case and back to the shelf in the band room but I must have made Superman's speed look amateurish. By this time all hands were manning their battle stations and I proceeded towards mine, stopping on the way to get my gas mask.
Arriving at my station, which incidentally is the second deck patrol and repair station where I am a stretcher bearer, I commenced the process of . . . closing all ports and hatches which would be highly detrimental if left open. . . .
Down below once more, I was asked by an ensign to assist him in reaching some of the officers on shore leave by telephone and this was my job for the next half hour. I succeeded in reaching Commander Holden, who almost refused to believe the inevitable but once convinced, arrived on board ship with the greatest of speed.
For the next part I returned to my station and found work enough; a fire had broken out on the second deck and had to be attended to with haste. . . .
The fire was precipitated by the bursting of a 500-pound bomb in the case mate and the main deck. The havoc created by this one bomb hit can never be exaggerated.
All our fire extinguishers were used up in no time. . . . Due to the cooperation of all hands concerned, the fire was eventually put out. . . .
He was also witness to the tremendous damage inflicted on other vessels, and to the Navy's efforts to fight back:
Ahead of us in dry dock were two destroyers also under repair, despite their wonderful barrage and cooperation; (they fought like wild cats) a number of bomb hits were scored and their crews were forced to abandon. . . .
Directly aft of us, moored at ten-ten dock, were the U.S.S. Oglala and the U.S.S. Helena. These two vessels, the former a mine layer and the latter one of our latest 10,000-ton cruisers, were tied or moored together. An enemy torpedo plane headed directly for the Oglala . . . and launched its torpedo. The old ship, severely injured, immediately turned on its side, and sank.
On the other side of the harbor . . . our battleships were receiving a merciless pounding. The U.S.S. Arizona received two bomb hits amidship and a great number of torpedoes. She split in half and her forward magazines burst. Directly forward of her, the U.S.S. Oklahoma received many torpedo hits and capsized.
Next to her the U.S.S. West Virginia received a tremendous amount of bomb hits and her whole port battery was wiped out. . . . The U.S.S. Tennessee stood up fairly, or rather, remarkably well considering the pounding she took. The U.S.S. Maryland stood as solid as a piece of granite and fought the enemy. She remained in one piece.
Directly forward of the Maryland, though some distance away . . ., the U.S.S. California received torpedo hits and listed on her port side. The U.S.S. Nevada, in a daring attempt to reach the open sea through the channel, was torpedoed and her wary skipper grounded her on the right side of the harbor in order to keep the channel clear.
One destroyer in the floating dry dock on our starboard was hit and went on fire, burning right at the bridge.
The human toll was horrific.
Now to the casualties, and I write this with a heavy heart. On our own ship, the one bomb hit pierced the boat deck abreast of No. 7 A.A. gun and tore through the No. 9 case mate and down to the main deck. All this area exploded with vigor. The Marine division suffered the severest losses.
First Lieutenant Craig, standing near the three-inch gun, had both legs blown off and received other injuries; he died almost on the spot.
Doctor Rall, a lieutenant junior grade, and a pharmacist's mate were mangled and killed instantly. This information I received from one of the musicians, Andrew Lambert, who, standing near by, saw it happen and was shell-shocked. His fellow stretcher bearer, Musician S.W. Craig, survived with minor injuries.
I wandered around the dressing station, my eyes not believing what they saw. I gave a drink here and loosened an article of clothing there; there was not much else I could do.
Many were badly burned and screamed for relief of pain; they had already received drug injections, and a glass of water to the lips was in many cases the only human assistance possible. . . .
Later in the day I assisted in taking the dead off the ship and in bringing on board many rounds of ammunition.
As far as other casualties are concerned I am in complete ignorance, though I know that they were severe. In the case of the capsized Oklahoma I have heard that there were from 500 to 1,100 men trapped inside her hull, I believe that the majority of them were extricated.
I am proud to say that the U.S.S. Pennsylvania was the first in action and that we accounted for not less than eight enemy planes.
Rumors swirled in the aftershock of the attack:
Here are some of the rumors passing amongst us, none of us having real solid information. Some of the enemy planes were piloted by German fliers. The enemy tried to land troops at Nanakuh and Waikiki beaches, but were repulsed.
We sank two enemy aircraft carriers some distance from the islands. Wake and Midway islands are in Japanese hands. Saboteurs land in great numbers on the island. In reference to this last fact I must admit that quite a large number of prisoners were taken here in the Navy Yard.
We had two more alarms yesterday, but these proved to be only scares. Our men are now and forever on the alert, and woe to the enemy if they try it again.
The following message was received on 17 November 2000:
Hi, My name is Lisa R. Lachenmayer, I just visited your web page written by my father Henry A. Lachenmayer, He would have been so proud to see this on the Internet. My dad passed away January 9, 1999, after a long bout with cancer.
He is missed.
I was surfing the net and typed his name in and your page came up. I showed my two teenage sons they were excited to see their POPPY. He was an amazing teller of history. Thanks Again.
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