Originally Published: December 7, 2005 7:36 a.m.
PRESCOTT – When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on this day in 1941, young Navy sailors did what they could to survive, and more than 15 of those survivors now live in the Prescott area and are alive to tell their story.
Eighty-two year old Bill Lyon is the president of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association in Prescott, and he and friend Frank Murphy, another Pearl Harbor survivor, talked about their experiences at the Bob Stump Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center yesterday.
At the tender age of barely 18, Lyon said he joined the Navy and “I had just been transferred from the USS Detroit to the submarines” before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
“I was eating a big old ham steak when the whistles started blowing and there was the sound of the sirens and bugles,” he said. “I went outside and the bombs were dropping.”
Lyon said he saw the USS Arizona blow up because “it had 1 million pounds of gun powder in it. You could see that from very far away.”
One thousand one hundred twenty-two people died.
“It was immediate,” said Lyon’s wife, Connie. “They hit it and it blew up.”
Lyon said he ran over to the pier where the submarines were, and “a torpedo plane flew overhead and I saw the pilot’s face.”
After he and another sailor ran into a nearby building, an officer took Lyon, placed him in front of the administration building and “handed me a 30-06 rifle that wasn’t loaded.”
Connie added, “That’s how prepared they were.”
As people approached the building, “I would say, ‘Who goes there, friend or foe?’ They always said ‘friend.’ If they had said ‘foe,’ I don’t know what I would have done.”
Lyon said that, after the war started, “I went back to the USS Detroit and went to torpedo school.”
Lyon said that though the invasion on Pearl Harbor was intense, it was not frightening.
“At that age, you don’t get scared,” he said. “We all knew a war was going to start with Japan.”
Lyon served in the Navy for four years and four months and said that during that time and the time after the war, “I had other things to do, so I just put it out of my mind. You just put it out of your mind and go on.”
Murphy, 89, said he joined the Navy when he was 24, and he was just about to discharge when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened.
“I had had enough of the Navy and I was on my way home,” he said.
Little did he know he would spend the next 22 years in the Navy. Murphy said he was sitting on Liberty Dock waiting for the bus “when these planes came flying by pretty close. We waved and they waved back, but then they machine-gunned a bunch of our sailors, and I said, ‘Oh, they’re not fooling around.’”
Murphy said he began running away, and when three machine gun bullets went through his right leg, “that’s when I picked up a little speed.”
After he received some bandages for his leg, “I was a young guy with not a brain in my head, so I went out to see what was happening. The USS Oklahoma fell over and boats were falling off of the boat dock.”
He and another sailor ended up stealing a motor whaleboat, and when they got close to the USS Arizona, “There were men swimming so we picked them up.”
“When it blew up, I was 40 or 50 feet away from the stern,” Murphy added. “It burned the eyebrows and mustache right off my face and pushed my body up against the tiller of the whaleboat. It didn’t hurt me a bit, but I bent the tiller.”
Murphy said he and other sailors continued to pick up sailors from the water for the rest of the day, and to this day, he cannot remember what he did on the night of Dec. 7.
“I have no remembrance of that night,” he said. “Many Pearl Harbor survivors can’t tell you what they did that night. Your mind just erases the trauma.”
After the war started, Murphy thought he would leave soon, but one battle after another made him stay.
“The Japanese changed my mind and my commanding officers changed my mind,” he said and discharged 22 years later.
Now, during the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association monthly meetings, which Lyon and Murphy founded and Lyon serves as president, Pearl Harbor survivors get together and share stories of their past.
“They perpetuate the fact that Pearl Harbor happened and they’re keeping the history going,” Connie said.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association can attend a meeting, which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month at noon at the Golden Corral restaurant.
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