Unflinching Portraits of Pearl Harbor Survivors
Seventy years after the day that lives on in infamy, the soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor recall their experiences
- By Megan Gambino
- Photo research by Brendan McCabe
- Smithsonian.com, December 05, 2011
(Marco Garcia / Wonderful Machine)
On the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jack Evans (above), a 17-year-old seaman aboard the USS Tennessee, was cajoled into dancing with Pat Campbell, a local 10-year-old girl, in a jitterbug contest at a Navy band competition. The pair won the top prize. The USS Arizona Memorial has the trophy in its collections, which, as National Park Service historian Daniel Martinez told Tom Brokaw in a 2006 interview, turned out to be “a footnote compared to the events that would unfold the next day.”
Evans was dressed that December 7 and thinking about what church service to attend when general quarters sounded, signaling him to his battle station. His job was to spot aircraft from a lookout in the foretop, a platform on the mast at the ship’s bow.
“When the Arizona blew, there was a chunk of metal as large as a locomotive that went spiraling up over my head and into the smoke that built up so rapidly I couldn’t see the thing anymore. I have no idea where it landed but it was a terrific jolt,” Evans recalled at a symposium in Pearl Harbor on the 65th anniversary of the attack. Two bombs struck the USS Tennessee during the battle, one of which drove shrapnel into Evans’ legs. “I didn’t even know it. I felt absolutely no pain. I guess that is the way you feel when you’ve got a real big charge of adrenaline in your body,” said Evans. “It must have been an hour or so later when someone said, ‘Hey Jack, you’re bleeding,’ and I looked down. By this time there were several tracks of blood going down each leg, and the blood had dried, it was that old.”
For nearly 60 years, Evans’ dance partner, later named Pat Thompson, wondered if the sailor survived. In 1999, she wrote a story about the jitterbug contest that was published in a veterans’ newsletter. Evans happened to read it. The two connected, and as chance would have it, they discovered they had lived a mere 15 miles away from each other in San Diego for about 40 of the lost years. At the 65th anniversary in Hawaii, they shared a dance. Evans, who received a Purple Heart, served in the Navy for 33 years.