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)
When director Michael Bay commissioned a script for his 2001 film, Pearl Harbor, he called upon Ralph Lindenmeyer (above), a former president of the San Diego chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, to critique it. The movie had some inaccuracies, Lindenmeyer said, and too much cussing, which he persuaded the director to tone down. But he was glad to provide advice, because the project upheld the association’s motto: “Remember Pearl Harbor, Keep America Alert.”
In 1941, Lindenmeyer was stationed at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor as an aviation machinist’s mate, inspecting, maintaining and repairing aircraft engines and propellers. He was in his barracks, looking forward to a day off at the beach in Waikiki, when the building started to tremble. “Every time a bomb would hit, the whole island would shake,” he once told San Diego Magazine. He remembers seeing a squadron of Japanese planes flying over his base toward nearby Battleship Row, a group of seven ships moored at Ford Island.
After the attack, Lindenmeyer went to a mess hall to pick up sandwiches for his comrades, where he found wounded servicemen draped over tables and wet, weary sailors who had swum from damaged ships.