Pearl Harbor survivors remember the day that ‘will live in infamy’
The words uttered by the late president Franklin D. Roosevelt are becoming more poignant as America is losing its World War II veterans at an alarming rate.
For the Carson City Pearl Harbor Survivors Nevada Chapter 1 members, they have seen their membership dwindle over the last several years, as many of them are deceased.
“There’s not many of us guys left,” said Howard J. Spreeman, president of the chapter. There are 18 members in a group that was formed with more than 50.
At the time Pearl Harbor was bombed, Spreeman was 20 years old and in the U.S. Navy. He was a third-class aviation radioman stationed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe, Hawaii, with the PBY class aircraft.
Spreeman, now 86, was headed, with his buddies, to the chow hall for breakfast.
“I had just ordered bacon and eggs at the exchange,” he said. “Then I heard something and thought, ‘Who in the hell is that,’ and facetiously answered, ‘It’s the Japs.'”
Spreeman and others ran outside and looked up. Spreeman saw airplanes with spurts of smoke emitting from the machine gun and immediately recognized it from the red emblem – Japanese aircraft. They were hitting NAS Kaneohe on Ford Island en route to Pearl Harbor.
“Everybody cleared out,” Spreeman said. “We saw three sea planes on fire and knew we had to get (to the tarmac).
“We ducked behind buildings and were still a good block away. By the time we got there, most planes were on fire.”
When Spreeman and the others got to the hangar and realized they had no weapons.
“I went to one of the sea planes where there were guns and was up to my ankles in fuel,” he said. “I got the guns out.
“We just did things. The first thing was to separate the planes on the tarmac.”
As they were doing so, a second wave of air attack came in.
“There was a whole formation,” Spreeman said. “We all dove into a ditch.”
Spreeman could feel the concussion of the bombs being dropped. When he looked around at the grassy area he had flopped on, he realized he was on top of a fuel farm.
Out of the 36 PBY aircraft, three were on patrol and only two of the other 33 were repairable.
“One had 120-some holes in it,” Spreeman added.
“Out of our group, 18 were killed and 50-60 were injured.”
Roland Peachee, 91, was 25 and stationed aboard the USS Rigel as the ship’s cook, second class, at NAS Kaneohe, where the ship was being overhauled.
“I was in the butcher shop preparing meat for the day and to go on liberty,” Peachee said. “We were underneath an overhang.
“Then the attack happened. I couldn’t do anything but cuss ’em.”
Peachee said his biggest fear was the rumor the Japanese would land troops at night.
“We were concerned for the women and children on the island,” he said. “It didn’t bother the Japs to kill ’em. But that didn’t develop.”
Two bombs were dropped in Peachee’s area. His ship lost two or three men as he recalls.
“The only thing we could do was try to protect ourselves, because we knew eventually it would end. I don’t think we were scared while it went on, because we were more or less trained for that.”
Peachee said their first course of action was to get the welders to ships in the harbor which had been hit.
“We had to get the survivors out,” he said. “We cut into the ships to get them out, dead or alive. It’s all we could do.
“It was unbelievable what happened.”
For Peachee and Spreeman, both of Carson City, they said there’s not a day that goes by the thought of Dec. 7, 1941, doesn’t come into their minds.
Peachee had been in the Navy six years at the time of World War II, and served four more years after.
“I’m pretty dedicated to the military and Navy,” he said. “I was a 10-year vet. I got out on medical discharge.”
Spreeman spent 20 years in the Navy as a radioman and later a pilot, mostly on seaplanes, and has written a book of memoirs about his childhood and military experiences, “Icarus Updated: A Boy and His Dream.”
“It’s all history,” Spreeman said of Pearl Harbor. “It’s been long enough people just forget.
“We can’t make enough noise – what’s left of us veterans.”
Paul Dierlam, also of Carson City, was an E7 working as a multi-engine aircraft mechanic on Ford Island, Hawaii.
“Breakfast was always good on Sunday,” he said. “I was headed for chow when I heard aircraft and looked up and noticed the Jap airplanes and saw the red emblem on them.”
Dierlam ran to hangar 39 where the PBYs were located.
“We were pushing planes out of the way,” he said. “It seemed like a hallucination – they were all destroyed.
“I was scared beyond compare. But you had to ignore that and do what you have to do.
“When we were running the machine-gun bullets were popping on the concrete. You just take it as it comes and think of what you can do. If you are hit, it’s inevitable.
“I didn’t get hit.”
Dierlam said today he has no sad feelings about WWII, and is not in contact with fellow crewman.
“How much can you remember 60-some years later?” he asked. “I have no regrets about being in the military.
“I am angry somebody tried to knock me off – I was just 19 years old. But the servicemen and women in Iraq are severely taken for granted. It devastates me to see someone without a leg. That’s baloney.
“If there’s somebody who wants to go help, let them go help. People who are older who want to go into the military, let them go.
“I pray at church to stop this silly-ass war, but they keep on fighting. My thoughts: There’s no need for this war.”
Dierlam said he loved every minute he was enlisted in the Navy.