"For Hells sweet sake!" says the Admiral, his eyes twinkling. "You just moved in, and now you are off to Midway. How are we going to paint that picture?" I had thumbtacked a six foot canvas on the wooden blackout hood that slants into my room from the two obliterated windows. The other double French windows, covered with tar paper, are wide open overlooking his garden, and the spreading flowering tree like a huge green umbrella, stuck deep into the ground and gaily decorated. Beyond are the cocoanut and banana palms and the green vegetable garden, which he tends himself for relaxation in the late afternoon. The gardener, a native woman, leans on her hoe just out of range of the revolving spray from the hose. Her gay hula blouse is stuffed to bursting, and her sky blue slacks are rolled up to port and hang wet over her starboard bare foot. They stretch dangerously across her soft broad beam. Her eyes gaze far away over the mass of salvaged anchors, guns, turrets and piles of lumber encroaching towards the garden hedge. "She is dreaming of old Hawaiian gods," says the Admiral with a grin.
Commandant of the Navy Yard the title starkly gives the picture of the scope of this duty, the weight of responsibility invested in this short stocky officer. I had the honor of being here because of his kindness and interest in my duty, and because of the security that my work requires. My orders are to put together for the first time the whole panorama of the Jap sneak attack of December the seventh, 1941, so that it can later be developed into a large mural painting.
The Admiral was in the thick of the whole show from beginning to end, and for a large part of it was Senior Officer Present Afloat. He was then Commander of the Mine Force. His flagship, the mine layer Oglala, was made fast to the Helenas outboard side at the Ten-ten Dock. His bridge commanded a view of the whole terrific scene. He commenced firing from the ready boxes the minute he stepped from his cabin to the bridge, he ordered the tugs and salvage vessels where they were most needed, he directed boats and working parties around this sudden hell-on-earth. Then he saw the torpedo wake coming straight for him.
The Japanese Sneak Attack On Pearl Harbor, December 7,
Across the foreground runs the Ten - Ten Dock and capsizing toward it is the mine layer Oglala. At the extreme left is the stern of the light cruiser Helena. She had received a torpedo hit a few minutes before. Beyond the Helena, the Nevada moves slowly past the huge bonfire of planes and hangars on the southern end of Ford Island, her guns blazing skyward. Suddenly the harbor water rises in tall white columns higher than her masts, bracketing her to starboard and port. Down by the head, the California is spurting streams of shells and tracers at torpedo and bomber planes. In the center background beyond Ford Island, the old target ship Utah is her own vast funeral pyre. Making ready to leave her dock is the Navy tanker Neosha loaded with gas. She got out without being hit. Two PT boats foam down the channel, their strident engines unheard in all the din. "Battleship row" is dwarfed beneath an immense breadth of black smoke rolling a mile high, befouling the clear blue and making a dark background for the flashing silver planes. The Maryland, behind the upturned bottom of the Oklahoma, is making ready to get under-weigh so that the Tennessee can follow and leave her hot berth beside the burning West Virginia. The wounded Vestal at the extreme right gets clear of the Arizona as a tremendous internal convulsion sends flame exploding high above her tortured body. Ships boats dart across the harbor like water bugs, passing and repassing, bringing the wounded and dead to ambulances and trucks hurriedly assembled at Ten Ten Dock. Many ships are moving as they fight, for Pearl Harbor is already being reborn from the sudden impact of the sneaking treachery.
Just a week before Pearl Harbor, I had got back to New York from Iceland, and finished the manuscript for North Atlantic Patrol at 3:30 A.M. the day war was declared. Then followed the winter of hard work, making the pictures from the sketches and notes done in Newfoundland, the North Atlantic and Iceland. In April I was ordered out here to Pearl Harbor to reconstruct the blitz not an easy job, but intensely interesting. The week on the Midway Islands, and the ensuing work on the paintings and notes, interrupted for a while the routine of my work. From Iceland to Midway I had joined the Navy and was seeing the world.