Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Wed, June 26

<i>Still has bullet that hit him</i><BR>Chino man was 3 when Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor

Phil Riddle wasn't quite 4 years old when a 50-caliber machine gun bullet shot through the roof of his home in the Hale Moku Navy housing area at Pearl Harbor.

Phil Riddle points to the spot where he and his mother were living in Navy housing in 1941. Ford Island and battleship row are to the right on the map. Near his finger is the 50-caliber machine gun bullet that hit his left leg when he was three years old.

It was about 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941 and Phil's mother, Martha, was dressing him. He was sitting on his bed when the two-inch copper-clad bullet glanced off the bone of his left calf, breaking the bone and creating a furrow down the boy's leg.

He remembers his eight-month pregnant mother taking him outside and a man stopping to make a tourniquet with a lawn stake and string that surrounded the newly planted lawn. The Navy has just built the housing area.

He remembers being at the Navy hospital on Hospital Point, but he isn't sure how he got there. He remembers wounded sailors "all over the place" and being laid on the floor for treatment. Someone squeezed an orange-colored antiseptic from a sponge onto his leg, wrapped it and told his mother to bring him back the next day. The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor doctors x-rayed and put a cast on his left leg.

A Chino Valley resident since 2002, Riddle is the newest and youngest member of the Prescott area Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. At 65, he jokes with other members about sitting at "the special table" reserved for children. Frank Murphy is the oldest member of the group at 86.

Jill Higgins, also a Chino Valley resident and a member of the group, was seven years old and living at Hospital Point during the attack that propelled the United States into World War II. Her father was a Navy doctor.

Riddle wonders if it wasn't Higgins' father who treated his leg. But the two have talked and they're not sure.

Riddle's father, a 30-year Navy veteran, was setting up a radar station in Palmyra, so mother and son were alone at the time of the attack. His aunt, Dorothy, also married to a sailor and living in Pearl Harbor, came over to help. The two women took the three-year-old upstairs and put him in bed after his leg was treated.

"I took one look at that hole in the roof, saw the sky and I freaked," Riddle remembers. "To this day I can still see that hole and the sky through it. They took me downstairs and I never slept upstairs again."

After sunset on Dec. 7 an FBI man came to the door, Riddle said. He found the 50-caliber bullet upstairs in the boy's bedroom, took it and gave his aunt a receipt. Nobody saw the bullet again for about 20 years.

Riddle said he was staying at his aunt's home in 1961 just before he married when she gave him a "special wedding present." It was the bullet that broke and scarred his leg.

"The FBI had hunted her down and gave her the bullet just before I got married," Riddle said. It was the first time he had seen it. He has since learned that it may have come from a ship on battleship row, which was a little more than one mile away from the housing area. It wasn't a Japanese bullet.

A graduate of the California Maritime Academy, Riddle joined the Navy in 1960 and Pearl Harbor was his first duty station. After he married a year later, the couple moved into Hale Moku housing. He couldn't find the house he lived in as a child.

His ship was tied up at the fuel pier across from battleship row and he watched the dedication of the Arizona Memorial on Memorial Day, 1962. He said the squadron of Japanese destroyers that came to pay their respects at the dedication stunned many Pearl Harbor residents. He hasn't visited the memorial and doesn't plan to.

But Riddle did visit the Navy hospital at Hospital Point again. He injured his ankle aboard ship in the mid-1960s and was taken to the hospital for treatment.

"As soon as I opened that door, I fell flat on my face. That was where they had taken me for treatment when I was three. It all came back. I couldn't get out of there fast enough."

Today, his eyes fill with tears when he talks about Pearl Harbor.

But on Oct. 13, 1941, his mother wrote in a letter: "I was beside him at the time, dressing him, at 8 a.m. He did not cry. I carried him down to the front door, and a man immediately applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and we were rushed to the Navy Yard Hospital. They were very busy there... The bullet entered the front of his bone, about two inches above the ankle but did not go through, so the bone is not out of line at all. I was sure worried at first, but he is well, it doesn't seem to hurt him."

His goal now, Riddle laughs, is to live to attend the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After all, he'll only be 103.

Contact

This Week's Circulars

To view money-saving ads...