Dec. 7, 1941, gets remembered
January 13, 2012
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- Seventy years ago, Dec. 7, 1941, America changed forever.
What's often overlooked in the history books is the likelihood that the first bombs that catapulted the U.S. into World War II were dropped, here.
That morning, shortly before 8 a.m., Cpl. Amos Peterson experienced history first hand as he was attempting to enter the Wheeler Mess Hall, now known as the "Wings of Lightning Inn" dining facility at 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. Even then, it was the primary DFAC of Wheeler's aviators.
An explosion that morning kept the door from opening.
"I remember being squeezed together like a pop bottle and tossed about," said Peterson, now 89 years old.
A blast across the street at Hangar #3 ignited millions of rounds of stored munitions. It also shook the nearby mess hall and blew out windows. The door Peterson was attempting to open very possibly saved his life from an onslaught of glass and shrapnel.
"I was thrown into the stairways, knocked unconscious," Peterson recounted. "When I opened my eyes and saw light, I knew I was alive."
Hangar #3 proved to be ground zero of the Army's greatest destruction that day. The Japanese military's primary targets that day were the Army airplanes on the field, munitions storage and the pilots' barracks. All took direct and lethal hits.
Oral history relays that the pilots of the Japanese planes were flying so low that eye-to-eye contact could be made.
Peterson received a Purple Heart after suffering permanent hearing loss, as well as a concussion and eye damage. He will turn 90 years old in February and returned to Wheeler, Dec. 6, with family members from his home in southwest Wisconsin.
The former member of the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, partially recovered. He still suffers from permanent hearing loss.
He remembered being called upon to help identify several of the 37 who died that day.
"It brings back hard memories," he said.
The now retired dairy farmer and his family toured remnants of bomb craters from the attack on the apron of the airfield that still exists today.
During his walk through history, Peterson received an ample dose of hospitality from Soldiers currently serving with the 25th CAB.