WARNER ROBINS — Fred Johnson said he was asleep on a cot in the ammunition room of the USS Maryland when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
Johnson, a communications officer, had been aboard the USS West Virginia before he was transferred to the USS Maryland a few days before the surprise attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii.
Johnson, 94, a retired Bibb County teacher and principal, shared his story Tuesday at the Exchange Club of Houston County’s monthly meeting at Ryan’s in Warner Robins.
“It was a shock,” said Johnson, who later served as principal at Willingham High School. “We just didn’t think something like that would happen.”
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Johnson said he still remembers hearing, “All hands man your battle stations” along with some “barnyard language” sprinkled in.
His cot was quickly pushed aside as men rushed into the room for ammunition while Johnson made his way to his communications post. He remembered how gut-wrenching it was when the mooring to the USS Oklahoma was cut to allow the battleship to flip over in order not pull other ships down.
Johnson also recalled the sound of the explosion in the ammunition storage area of the USS Arizona. “That is the largest explosion I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said.
All the ships were hit, oil was leaking and a lot of men were in the water, Johnson recalled.
Then the oil caught on fire. A few men who were under the water were able to swim out and save themselves. But a lot of them didn’t make it, Johnson said.
“We fought back as best we could,” Johnson said.
One of the men he knew fired a rifle from a small boat and claimed to have shot down at least two enemy planes, Johnson said.
“There were a lot of heroes that day, and I wasn’t one of them,” Johnson said.
He shared a story of Doy Green, a big man whom he joked worked in the officer’s mess hall but despite his size carried a small tray of butter while others carried heavy dishes. Yet on that day, Green carried the badly wounded captain of the USS West Virginia wherever he wanted, Johnson said. Green was awarded a Bronze Star, Johnson said.
There were funny incidents also, Johnson said. Like a pair of pants loaned to another officer, which were later discarded after being badly soiled by oil. The owner of the pants asked for them back — he had left $100 in a pocket.
Johnson said it’s important to remember Pearl Harbor because “things like that — that happen once, can happen again.”
Johnson, who served 5 1/2 years with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Navy Reserve for 30 years, married and had two children. He taught 13 years at Lanier Junior High and was principal at three schools during his career with Bibb County schools. He now lives in Jones County.
Information from the Telegraph archives was included in this report.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.