Unflinching Portraits of Pearl Harbor Survivors- page 6 | History | Smithsonian
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(Marco Garcia / Wonderful Machine)

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

Sam Fryefield

Sam Fryefield Pearl Harbor survivor
(Marco Garcia / Wonderful Machine)

Sam Fryefield (above) was in the breakfast chow line on the USS Detroit, a light cruiser positioned in the harbor, when the air raids began. He ran to the ship’s deck, where he saw torpedoes in flight, and then retreated to his battle station. “Wherever he was down below, he bit all his fingernails off, he was so scared,” says Garcia.

Torpedoes came close to hitting the USS Detroit, including one that passed ten yards astern and lodged somewhere in the mud or coral below. But the ship went unscathed. In fact, after the battle ended, the USS Detroit surveyed the west coast of Oahu and searched for any signs of a retreating Japanese flotilla. Fryefield was relieved that he and his shipmates did not come into contact with the Japanese, who significantly outnumbered them.

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