December 7, 2010
Veteran remembers Pearl Harbor 69 years later
Everything changed in wake of Japanese sneak attack on Navy, sailor remembers
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Murray Aldrich of Cortland wears his old World War II Navy uniform. He served in the war from 1943 to 1946, seeing action in the South Pacific. He also served with the Navy Reserve from 1946 through 1958.
The “date which will live in infamy” is still vivid after 69 years in the mind of Cortland resident and World War II veteran Murray Aldrich, who served in the Navy fighting in the Pacific.
Today is the 69th anniversary of the attack, which marked the entry of the United States into World War II and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech to Americans declaring war.
Aldrich, then 15 years old, and his father were listening to the New York Giants play the Philadelphia Eagles on the radio that Sunday afternoon when the news was announced over the air waves: Pearl Harbor had been bombed by Japanese naval and air forces, leaving more than 2,400 Americans dead.
“I said to my father — ‘Where’s Pearl Harbor?’” said Aldrich, now 84. “I kept following the progress of the war from then on.”
The attack came as a total surprise, seemingly without provocation, Aldrich recalled.
But after 69 years, the weight of the attack seems to have waned among the younger generations, Aldrich said.
“The people who were involved in those days, we knew what was going on and knew the people getting killed,” he said. “But now, so many of those people have died off and they (younger generations) don’t know the history.”
The impact of the Pearl Harbor attack among Cortland County residents was palpable at the time, Aldrich said.
“There was outrage ... people were so disgusted about what happened,” Aldrich said. “‘Kill the Japanese’ — that’s how they felt.”
The Japanese sunk four U.S. battleships during the attack and crippled others. Three cruisers, destroyers and an anti-aircraft training ship were also sunk or damaged.
The Japanese had 64 casualties, nine of which were submariners.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, Aldrich said, everything changed.
Roosevelt asked the U.S. Congress to declare war the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. Nazi Germany and Italy also declared war against the United States after military operations against fellow Axis member Japan were under way.
Like most of his friends, Aldrich wanted to join the Marine Corps, but was too young at 15 years old to enlist right away. The military was not taking anyone younger than 17, he said.
Then, about two weeks shy of his 17th birthday, Aldrich approached Navy recruiters and they allowed him to enlist.
Those who did not enlist found other ways to get into the war effort. Aldrich said his mother and sister sewed scarves and necessities for Bundles for Britain. It was a program in which American citizens sent over clothing, food and other necessities to those left homeless in England from heavy bombing by Germany.
Aldrich served as a signalman and quartermaster working in communications and navigation aboard the USS Olgla, an amphibious repair vessel with the 7th Amphibious Fleet. He also served on a similar vessel, the USS Regal.
He was involved in the invasion of the Leyte Gulf, which involved battles fought in the waters near the Philippine Islands during World War II. It was considered to be the largest naval battle of the war. Two of the four battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor, USS California and USS West Virginia, had been refloated and faced the Japanese fleet in that battle.
If there was any retribution for the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was indisputably the dropping of the atomic bomb, Aldrich said. He believes the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified.
“The Japanese were told to find everything they could get, even pitchforks, to fight the enemy — us — and I think it (the bomb) saved millions of lives,” Aldrich said. “We were prepared to go to Japan for invasion, but we didn’t know when.”
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe