- William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V).
Uncle Doug Eaker is a quiet man--salty at times, introspective at others and with a twinkle in his eye. Like most people, he has many stories. On today, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I offer his story of leadership thrust upon him at age 23. He shared this with me a decade ago, on September 30, 2000, at our annual family reunion. The story will be told in several parts, including his perspective, his wife, Lena Mae's perspective, and that of his sister-in-law. Finally, there were will some statistics, for those die-hard history buffs. History serves as an important library of resources for the study of leadership.
Pearl Harbor Remembered
Doug Eaker: On December the 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and I was in the bed asleep because I had gotten off the evening watch from 4 o’clock to 12. Lena Mae woke up and said, “Honey there’s something happening down in the yard” and this was close to 8 o’clock. And I looked out and said, “Oh, it’s nothing but a fire go back to sleep."
And she said, “Oh, there’s something happening in the yard.” So I got up, and what made me run to the back of the house, I don’t know, the front of the house faced Pearl Harbor. As I looked out the bathroom window, a red ball came by, which was on a plane that belonged to the Japanese. I went back in and I told Lena Mae, “Get down under something, the Japs are here.”
And she said, “No?!” and I said, “Yes. Get downstairs and get under something.” And I ran next door.
Lena Mae Smith Eaker: Before that, when we went downstairs, we took our clothes. We turned on the radio, it was completely silent, but every once in a while like every minute or so it came on that “All military personnel return to your duty station immediately.” Then it would go off and come back on, then you wouldn’t hear anything. It just would keep repeating itself on the radio every minute or two or whatever. So that scared us to death.
Doug: It scared us, and when I got outside, I looked up and I saw there were a bunch of Jap planes flying over Pearl Harbor. We lived about 5 minutes’ leisurely walk from our house to the submarine base where I was stationed, and I woke my next door neighbor up and we jumped in his car and went down. It couldn’t have been 10 minutes maximum from the time I got up until to the time I reported in to the radio station at the submarine base where I was a radioman. They told me to go down to set up emergency radio on the USS Widgeon, which was a salvage vessel attached to the submarine base.
I went down and set up emergency radio and she pulled away from the dock and went beside the Arizona, which had been hit pretty good and “oil” was pouring.
The skipper of the Widgeon said pull away Emergency and we got about 100 yards away from the Arizona when she blew. At the same time, I had set up a radio and this little seaman came around the radio shack shooting a 30-ought-6 and was shooting and went Pow, Pow, Pow, and I said, “Give me the gun. I’ll shoot and you load.” We were shooting at one of the Jap planes and I hope and pray to God we got it. But I could not prove that.
The U.S.S. Widgeon pulled over beside the Arizona during the attack and we cut 14 men out of the Arizona. And we went over to the side of the USS California, which was flat on the ground in Pearl Harbor. We sent a diver down and the diver came up and said, “There’s a hole in it big enough to place a house in.” From then on it was touch & go. I went down in whites and Tuesday I got back into port and went home. I didn’t know whether Lena Mae was alive or dead. She didn’t know whether I was alive or dead. God was with us, and when I was walking up the street, Lena Mae saw me coming and come running. That was the happiest moment of our lives to know that each other was alive and that we loved each other. We got back to the house and Lena Mae said, “Boy, you are filthy. I said, I know it honey, but I can’t help it. When I went down I was in whites, but when I came home I was in blacks because the oil and smoke and everything had got on the uniform that I was wearing. I went in and she said, “Go upstairs and get cleaned up and get some clean clothes on.
When I did, I came back downstairs and she said, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” And I said, “It would just tickle me to death to have a cup of coffee. I haven’t had one in I don’t know how long” And she fixed a cup of coffee. I couldn’t even drink it. I—that’s when it hit me what happened.
I had to drink my coffee off the table because I couldn’t hold it in my hand.
Lena Mae: Then he had to go straight back to the sub base to do duty.
Doug: From then on, it was all you could say. And that was the whole story.
Karen: As far as during that time goes, what was it that you were actually doing in each of those situations? Were you…
Doug: I was on emergency radio for the submarine base.
Karen: So when you actually came to the point of having to help the people on the Arizona, were you involved in that part?
Doug: We didn’t have anyone from the Arizona. We cut them out of the Oklahoma, which was anchored, tied up to the pier in front of the Arizona. We didn’t take any men off the Arizona that I know of. They all died or whatever. If I said Arizona, it was Oklahoma which was piered in front of the Arizona. And we cut 14 men out of the Oklahoma, which was over on its side. The California was in front of the Oklahoma, and that was where we sent the diver down to check.
But after that was all over and I got back home, then I volunteered for submarine duty and they sent me to San Diego.
[Continued in Part 2]
Doug Eaker lives near Durham, NC, with his wife of more than seven decades, the lovely Lena Mae Smith Eaker. They are Karen Smith-Will's great-uncle and great-aunt, through her father's, William L. Smith, Jr.'s side.
Photo #: 80-G-19942 Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 Source: USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning furiously, 7 December 1941. Her forward magazines had exploded when she was hit by a Japanese bomb. At left, men on the stern of USS Tennessee (BB-43) are playing fire hoses on the water to force burning oil away from their ship. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
USS Widgeon Source: USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning furiously, 7 December 1941. Her forward magazines had exploded when she was hit by a Japanese bomb. At left, men on the stern of USS Tennessee (BB-43) are playing fire hoses on the water to force burning oil away from their ship. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Other Photos: From the digital archives of Karen Smith-Will