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December 5, 2007 > A Remembrance of Pearl Harbor

A Remembrance of Pearl Harbor

By Anuja Seith

Some experiences in life remain fresh despite graying hair; they are an integral part of one's existence and soul. One such event was the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 that not only lives in history books but in the minds of many survivors. As this dark day in our history appears on the calendar for its 67th year, DeWayne J. Chartier, a Pearl Harbor survivor born and raised in northwest Wisconsin (now a resident of Merrill Gardens in Fremont) recounts the events of that day and shares his memories of what began as a mundane Sunday morning.

Chartier was 21 years old when he joined the navy in 1938. "One day five of us stood at a corner in Rice Lake in Wisconsin wondering what to do as those were hard times with no money or jobs. So one of us suggested that we should join the navy," said Chartier. This was in 1937 from which he began his naval life journey. He recalls that his decision to join the navy was met with exhilaration by his father who was a police officer and served as a railroad worker during the Second World War. "My dad was jubilant that I was getting a job that paid $21 a month, provided lodging, clothing, food and a pension too which was big thing in those days."

When Chartier first joined the navy, he was assigned to the Navy Pier in Chicago for training; a year and half later he received a notice that his ship (USS Houston) would be stationed in the Far East. Since his enlistment would expire prior to the ship's expected return, Chartier was given a choice of reassignment or reenlistment. Unsure of his future plans, Chartier transferred to the Pacific Fleet where he served on the battleship Pennsylvania (BB-38) in the maintenance and repair division specializing in the maintenance of deck machinery including cranes and anchor windlass. His rating as a ship repair technician was also known as a "shipwreck tech." He began as a Seaman and quickly rose through the ranks to become a Chief Petty Officer. After only a "month or so" at that rank, the Executive Officer recommended him for promotion to Warrant Officer. Chartier subsequently was promoted through the Warrant Officer ranks from WO-1 to CWO-4, retiring at the highest rank for an enlisted man in officer status.

On the day of attack, Chartier was at Catholic Mass in the Bloch Arena within the shipyard. "It was about a quarter to eight in the morning. We had reached [mass] early and service had not yet started when the roaring of the first few Japanese planes was heard." It didn't take long until everyone realized that Japanese aircraft were circling the arena with torpedo planes. The attacking planes used the arena as a pylon to line up along a "slip" of water housing submarine pens leading to "Battleship Row." Chartier remembers a hurried return to his ship while under fire. "I escaped into a gravel parking lot and then to a lumber yard until I began to realize that if a bomb was dropped here I would look like a porcupine with all these boards sticking out of me." Fleeing from the lumber yard, Chartier finally reached his ship, USS Pennsylvania, in dry dock for propeller repairs.

Second class Petty Officer Chartier was sent on a 50-foot motor launch with a small water pump to the burning battleship USS West Virginia. With a small crew and a small pump, they nosed up to the ship which had settled to the bottom, its main deck no more than four feet above the waterline. Fire lapped at a box that Chartier believed held ammunition so he did his best to cool the area but was forced to retreat due to the heat from below. A seagoing tugboat with much stronger pumps soon appeared and took over the duty.

Returning to the Pennsylvania, he found it had been hit with a 500-pound bomb which penetrated to the deck below the Marine's compartment and exploded killing the Marines and Chartier's medical doctor who happened to be in the area. Chartier was assigned to his battle station on the third deck down, between the bases of two gun turrets. His responsibility was to repair any damage and avoid water damage but because the ship was in drydock, there was little to do except help others clear debris from passageways and endure.

The devastating day was followed by an uneasy night shrouded in fear. "It was a terrible night because somebody kept on sounding the alarm and alerting the island the whole night as everyone expected the Japanese fleet." Recounting his feelings on that day, he notes that there is little time for anything else but to "do your job" in that type of situation.

Following 21 years of naval service, Chartier retired, bought a house in San Leandro and wondered what life had in store for him next. A neighbor suggested that he join the sheriff's office and he did, serving as a deputy until his second retirement 19 years later.

Recounting the events of Dec. 7, 1941, Chartier remembers the attack with the clarity of personal experience. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, commemorative cap, and a silver medal which Congress awarded to Pearl Harbor Survivors, Chartier is a reminder that although their ranks are thinning, survivors of the surprise attack that morning exemplify the resolve, resilience and fortitude of the American character.

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