Pearl Harbor: The Memories Are Forever
December 7, 2012
I am the daughter of a Pearl Harbor survivor. My father, Calvin C. Dawes, was a gunner’s mate on the U.S.S. Raleigh when the attack commenced. I had not been born…yet that day impacted my life as no other.
My dad was a month away from turning eighteen on that day. His mother had signed to allow him to join the Navy. He became a man the day the Japanese attacked.
I wished I’d known the fun-loving boy, the adventurous youth he was before that day. I was never to know him in that way. Oh, his life went on after the war, he married mother, his high-school sweetheart. They had four children over the course of time, I was the second born. Yes, life went on. But not for dad. He recounted the moments that stole his youth, those moments seared in his brain forever. We heard the stories, lived through it with him. It was real to us, as if we had been there with him.
O755 hours. A dull explosion hit the ship. All hands were called to general quarters and five minutes later the anti-aircraft guns on the Raleigh opened fire. The ocean water was boiling. Dad did his job as he was trained, with no time to think, no time to be afraid. Men hollered orders, ran back and forth with ammunition. Everyone did their job to perfection.
The ship started to list toward port. An airplane torpedo struck #2 fireroom and flooded it. No. 1 & No. 3 were reported flooded, too. It looked as if the Raleigh would capsize.
The noise was deafening, the smoke rising. Taste of burning oil was in the air. The gunfire was steady and accurate. Dad saw several Japanese planes fall out of the sky as a result of his mates and their training. A bomber flew over the stern of the Raleigh, burst into flames and crashed on the U.S.S. Curtis.
Thank goodness for the training these men went through, that in the heat of battle, they could perform their duties without hesitation. Dad found out later that the Raleigh was responsible for the downing of five Japanese planes, all while listing severely. Proudly, he remembered everyone on board stayed at their posts and finished the job.
The Raleigh survived the attack, no one on the ship was killed. A miracle, since the Utah and USS Raleigh were the first ships attacked. They were mistaken by the Japanese for the Lexington and the Enterprise.
Even at his tender age, dad performed valiantly, as did all the men on the Raleigh, as stated in numerous reports. Dad would be in several other battles during the war, but none impacted him as much as that attack.
He’d just begin telling the stories, over and over, as if they played like a movie in his mind. He was prone to fits of anger, weeping, emotional upheaval he tried to drown in drink. Back in that day no one heard of post-traumatic stress disorder, much less knew to treat it. Dad lived with it. A seventeen year old boy caught in one of the biggest naval battles in World War II history, forever to live with the extreme memories.
I lost my dad about twenty years ago to a heart attack, but I always felt I’d lost him before I ever really knew him. The last two years of his life he would tell me he was sorry … sorry for the memories he forced on us. He seemed more at peace then. I held his hand and wept with him.