Monday, December 05, 2005

 

Film offers rare account of attack before Pearl Harbor

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Star Bulletin
By Gregg K. Kakesako
December 03, 2005


U.S. NAVY. The USS Ward is shown in this photo
taken in 1918 or 1919.

"We have attacked, fired upon and dropped depth charges on a submarine operating in defensive sea areas."

That was the message sent at 6:43 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, by Lt. William Outerbridge, skipper of the destroyer USS Ward, to the commandant of the 14th Naval District.

It was the first shot of the Pacific war. The Navy high command confirmed receipt of the message, then ignored it.

Almost an hour later, 40 Japanese torpedo bombers made their first successful and unhindered run on Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row.

This weekend, the Ward will be remembered as veterans, their families and government and military officials gather at Pearl Harbor to observe the 64th anniversary of the attack that pushed the country into World War II.

Part of the observance will be the premiere of a 23-minute documentary produced by video students at Hawaii Pacific University. The first showings will be at 6 and 7:15 p.m. tomorrow at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center.

Five of the 82 Navy reservists assigned to the 314-foot Ward, then a newly recommissioned World War I destroyer, will attend the special screening and be recognized at Wednesday's Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies.

Among them will be Will Lehner, 84, whose battle station on the Ward was as ammunition handler on the destroyer's afterdeck.

Lehner said that after the Ward fired on the 78-foot-long black Japanese midget submarine, the destroyer traveled right over it.

"It looked like it was covered by moss," said Lehner, who now lives in Stevens Point, Wis.

"I had never seen anything like it before," he told the Star-Bulletin yesterday by telephone.

Also attending this week's events will be several of his former shipmates on the Ward: Richard John "Dusty" Thill, who manned the destroyer's 4-inch gun on the port side; Frank Hadju, another port-side 4-inch gun crewman; Don Pepin, lookout on the starboard bridge; and Ken Swedberg, gunner on the ship's No. 3 anti-aircraft gun.

Lehner said that Outerbridge had reported aboard as skipper just two days before, and the Ward was on one of its weekly anti-submarine patrols outside the channel leading to Pearl Harbor.

At 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, Lehner recalled, the Ward's crew was rousted to man their battle stations as the call went through the decks of the four-stack destroyer.

"I couldn't figure what the new skipper was doing. We all thought it was just a drill. Half-hour later, we secured from general quarters. We never saw anything."

Then, at 6 a.m., the same call for general quarters was sounded on the destroyer.

"Boy, we thought we didn't know how we would get along with this new skipper," Lehner added. "First a drill at 3:30, and then another one at 6 a.m."

He learned, however, that the one of the destroyer's four guns had fired at the unmarked sub but missed. The No. 2 shot hit the coning tower above the waterline, he said.

For years, "people doubted us that we ever sunk that sub," Thill said in the documentary.

The Japanese sub sunk by the Ward was one of five launched on Dec. 6, each carrying a two-man crew and armed with two torpedoes.

In his Dec. 13, 1941, after-action report to the Navy, Outerbridge said the destroyer's officer of the deck sighted at 6:37 the coning tower and periscope of the midget submarine tailing the supply ship USS Antares, which was headed to Pearl Harbor. Eight minutes later the Ward opened fire.

"The shot from number three gun, fired at a range of 560 yards or less, struck the submarine at the waterline, which was the junction of the hull and coning tower," Outerbridge wrote in his report. "Damage was seen by several members of the crew. This was a square positive hit."

He said the submarine sank in 1,200 feet of water after being barraged with depth charges fired from the Ward.

One of the five Japanese submarines washed up on the beaches at Bellows after the 1941 attack; three, including the one attacked by the Ward, were believed to have been sunk; the whereabouts of the fifth have never been verified.

The Hawaii Pacific University documentary features a re-enactment, archival footage and an interview with Kichiji Dewa, whose job in the Japanese navy was to maintain the midget submarines. In 2002, Dewa met with members of the Ward's crew and participated with them on the Discovery Channel's search for the midget submarine.

Ingo Bauernfeind, HPU student producer and director, said he wanted to tell "an important story that has largely been neglected."

Converted to a high-speed transport at Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington in 1943, the Ward spent a year delivering troops in the South Pacific until it was sunk by an air attack off Leyte on Dec. 7, 1944.


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