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)
Mal Middlesworth (above) was on his way to the fantail, or rear, of the USS San Francisco to hoist the flag and begin his 8 a.m. to noon watch when he saw the first explosions on Ford Island. Initially, he thought it was a drill, with dummy bombs. But that changed when a Japanese torpedo plane whizzed by just 30 or 40 feet from him.
The USS San Francisco was a sitting duck; docked in the harbor for repairs and upgrades, the heavy cruiser had no fuel or ammunition for its large artillery. Yet miraculously the ship was not hit, and its crew suffered no injuries.
Middlesworth’s post, from which he observed the battle, afforded him, as he has put it, “a front-row seat to history.” He joined the Marines just two months earlier, at age 18, and served for four years—a tenure that would come to define him. “I wasn’t a Marine. I am a Marine,” he told Garcia. He proudly touts 17 scars from 15 major battles he fought in.