Remembering Pearl Harbor: 'We just saw droves of planes come in'

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Joseph Todd, left, and Robert Pittman spoke Wednesday at a Coweta County memorial service marking the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack that plunged the U.S. into World War II. Both men were at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked 70 years ago.

By JOHN A. WINTERS john@newnan.com It is always fascinating to listen to eyewitnesses recount significant moments in history -- more so when those events happened 70 years ago. About 40 people did just that Wednesday as two survivors of "the day that will live in infamy" spoke during a Coweta County memorial service on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. The service was held at the McKoon Funeral Home chapel in Newnan, moved from Veterans' Memorial Plaza due to the rainy weather Wednesday.
Born on New Year's Eve in 1917, Robert Pittman was shipped to Hawaii as part of an anti-aircraft unit. He remembered all their guns were from World War I. It was in the last 30 minutes of his guard shift at a nearby barracks that Pittman saw "many planes" start to fly overhead. "We couldn't tell who they were," he said. "Until finally we saw the rising sun on the fuselage. "We just saw droves of planes come in," he added. The first attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 caught everyone by surprise. By the time the second wave came, Pittman and others were able to get their anti-aircraft guns loaded. "We were credited with shooting down 37 planes," he said. "That's all we could get because they were just in and out." When he finally made it to the actual harbor, Pittman said that "it was just a mess down there." "One trip down there was all we wanted," he said. Joe Todd was on the hospital ship Solace, which had arrived at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 2. He remembered the sounds of guns going off while he was below decks. "All of a sudden the guns started," he said. "We got up there topside and saw two groups fly over. "We were real close to the Arizona when it blew up," he added. "I thank the Lord that we got back," Todd said. "But I also think about the ones that didn't." Seventy years ago, on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched the devastating attack on the United States. In less than two hours, the U.S. suffered 3,435 casualties, while also losing 188 aircraft, eight battleships, three light cruisers and four other vessels. As devastating as it was, it could have been much worse, pointed out memorial service organizer Dick Stender, past commander of the Newnan VFW Post 2667. He recalled how Adm. Chester Nimitz toured the harbor soon after the attack, taking command there to survey the damage. The admiral told the crew the Japanese made three critical errors: First, they attacked on a Sunday, when most people weren't on the ships or docks. If it had been during the week, the casualties could have been 10 times greater. Second, the Japanese didn't bomb the dry docks, meaning repairs could be made there and ships would not have to be towed all the way back to the States. And finally, just over a hill was the largest fuel storage facility, one used by the entire Pacific fleet. It, too, wasn't hit. "Those three mistakes will enable us to defeat the Japanese," Stender quoted Nimitz as saying. Wednesday's service marking the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack was organized by the Coweta County Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters.


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