The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, stunned virtually everyone in the U.S. military: Japan’s carrier-launched bombers found Pearl Harbor totally unprepared. In this 1991 interview, conducted by John Terreo for the Montana Historical Society, serviceman Orville Quick, who was assigned to build airfields and was very near Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941, remembers the attack. He also provided a vivid, and humorous, account of the chaos from a soldier’s point of view.Listen to Audio:
Orville Quick: On the morning of December 7th, we had just come from the, eating breakfast in the mess hall, walked out in the street, and looked up, and here comes a Jap plane flying and shooting down through the area, and we stood there watching it, wondering what in the world was going on. We thought maybe it was probably the air corps putting on a little show, cause they did that every once in a while. They’d fly around and drop little sacks of flour for bombing practice, I guess. And we didn’t know what it was. And we could look down south towards Pearl Harbor and Honolulu and we could see a big smoke rising and the boom-booms.
Finally, the bugler blew the call to arms, and none of us had ever heard that bugle call before. We didn’t know what in the world it was until somebody said that the Japs were attacking Pearl Harbor and for us to go to the supply office and get our ammunition and then go up to the barracks and draw our rifles. So we went down to the supply office to get our ammunition, and the supply office didn’t have any ammunition belts to put the ammunition in. So a lot of us carried eighty rounds, and that was ten clips of eight rounds apiece. We carried those in our pants pocket for days and days and days before the supply finally got in some ammunition belts to carry the ammunition in. Then we got our rifles. Nobody knew how to put a clip of shells in the rifle, but we did have a few men in the company that had had some training before on those rifles, so those guys showed us how to get that clip into that M-1 rifle and get our thumb out of the way so we didn’t get our thumb smashed.
Then the first night, the night of December the 7th, of course, that was blackout. Everything was blacked out. There was not a speck of light. The windows in the mess hall had been painted black, the doorways had been doubled up, painted, and tarps were hung over the doors. There wasn’t a light of any kind even in the mess hall.
Sometime during the evening, after dark, some airplanes flew over, evidently some of ours. Nobody knew whose they were or what they were. We were down in a little coolie below our barracks. And some idiot took his 45 and shot a couple times in the air. Why, nobody seems to know. But it was confusion, unprepared, total confusion until they figured out what in the world was going on.
Source: Oral history courtesy of Montana Historical Society.