Paul Goodyear, who recently turned 83, was a 23-year-old petty officer third class in the Navy and was aboard the USS Oklahoma when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was just beginning his 8 a.m. watch when the bombs began to drop.
WITHIN 11 MINUTES of being torpedoed, our ship had rolled over, and the mast
was embedded in the sands at the bottom of the harbor. Many men were trapped in
their compartments. Even 60 years later, that really bugs me. Those kids were
trapped with no air, no lights, nothing. They just suffocated over a period of
time. We were able to cut 32 out. And some of them were lucky and drowned almost
instantaneously. But we have no idea of how many of them survived for days. In
fact, three men survived on the West Virginia for about two weeks. The West
Virginia did not turn over, and they were trapped in their compartment, which
was watertight. They had water, food and flashlights. But nobody could get to
them. Can you imagine sitting there for two weeks knowing that every breath you
take is just pushing your end closer?
Once we abandoned ship and made it to shore, we were not allowed into the mess hall on Ford Island because we did not have ID cards. Can you believe it? After you abandon ship you’re supposed to go back and get your goddammed ID card if you want to eat. So we went down to where the USS California was being unloaded and grabbed gallon cans of food, or anything that looked like food. Of course there were no labels on them. We’d get up in the morning and say, “Let’s have bacon and eggs.” We’d open two cans—one might be asparagus and the other pineapple—and we’d eat it with our hands. We slept on top of a fire tower. There were about eight or nine of us, we’d just cover up the best we could and sleep all bundled up. We broke into the lockery and took clothes and left our old clothes there, but it didn’t do us much good because our bodies were so filthy with the damn bunker fuel that our clothes immediately became spotted and dirty.
Finally, on Dec. 15, the USS Indianapolis came in. I had a buddy on board so I signaled him, asking if I could come aboard and get a bath. I can still remember the cute little ensign, probably an 18- or 20-year-old kid. His eyes were just bugging—they’d just come in and he had seen all these bodies floating around and all these ships burning. And then this apparition—me—walked up onto his spotless gangplank. He sent his messenger for the captain. By that time, my friend Tuck had come down from the bridge. “Tuck, do you know this man?” the captain asked. “Yeah, I went to school with him,” Tuck said. “OK, take him down to the master-at-arms shack and get him a change of clothes, but I want you to report to me within one hour that this man has left the ship,” the captain said. Then, as we were about to go below, the captain yelled out, “Oh, Tuck,” and I thought, that son of a bitch has changed his mind, he’s going to throw me off. Well, we turned around, and the captain said, “Take him down to the mess hall and get him a meal.” I could still kiss that captain because that was the first meal I’d had in eight days.
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