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65 years later: Memories still run deep for local Pearl Harbor survivors

The day of Dec. 7, 1941 is one seared into the American psyche like few others. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 65 years ago today, launching the United States into World War II, nearly 2,500 American lives were lost.

Two current McDuffie County residents watched as planes bearing the rising sun crested the mountains of Oahu before 8 a.m. and began firing on military targets. Both survived the attack and still remember the horrors of that "day which will live in infamy."

Roger Reid was part of a 12 soldier advance unit for his army regiment that was sent ahead to get things ready for their move to the Philippines. They made a stop in Hawaii on their way.

Nancy Freeman was a civilian worker at Kaneohe Naval Air Base, a major target for Japanese fighter planes. She remembers waking up to the surprising sounds of war.

"I was in bed asleep and heard all the racket, and I just went outside and stood at the corner of the housing. I was staying with some friends in Navy housing," she said. "Just like the movies, I watched the airplanes swoop down and drop the bombs."

Mr. Reid was in the chow line at Schofield Barracks near Wheeler Field when he heard planes coming through the pass.

"We thought it was kind of unusual that planes would be coming that early," he told The Mirror in a previous interview. "...The planes got closer and started strafing; they opened the machine guns and started strafing. And we looked up and saw the rising sun on their wings, so we knew the Japanese were attacking us."

His description of the chaos on that day was gruesome. The guns and ammunition were locked up and separated by half a mile. The U.S. planes were all destroyed, he said, and afterward, he helped with the ghastly task of "dragging the dead out, putting body parts in garbage cans."

Ms. Freeman said the attack crippled the American fleets of ships and planes. She remembers being evacuated with the rest of the women on the base.

"My friend and I went back to the house that we had vacated on Friday, and this was Sunday morning," she said. "We stayed there until Monday, and somebody came and got us and put us to work again. Then life just went on quietly. Everybody expected much more warfare, so to speak, but (the Japanese) did a very excellent job, hit everything very well, all at the same time."

McDuffie County's two living survivors never met during the war. Ms. Freeman is originally from California, and Mr. Reid grew up in Lincoln County. But the two have a bond that few can claim.

Ms. Freeman - who has lived in Thomson for 10 years - was attending a Wednesday night service at Thomson First Baptist Church some years ago when Mr. Reid stood up and introduced himself to the congregation as a Pearl Harbor survivor.

"I said, 'Don't get smart. So am I,'" Ms. Freeman recalled. "So that began our friendship."

The memories of that day remain so strong that neither survivor felt like so much time had passed. Both will pause to remember those lost 65 years ago, and Mr. Reid hopes to attend a ceremony commemorating the attacks held yearly in Macon.

"I'll call Roger and say 'Hey, I love you,'" Ms. Freeman said of her plans.

Mr. Reid wanted to attend the anniversary ceremonies at Pearl Harbor, but the health of he and his wife prevented them from making the trip.

"It's kind of a sad feeling thinking about what happened at that time," Mr. Reid said Monday morning sitting in the living room of his Thomson home. "But I'm just thankful that we overcame that quickly, and we got back on track."

Five years ago, Mr. Reid visited Pearl Harbor for the 60th anniversary. He said touring the USS Arizona Memorial - which serves as a grave for its crew members that perished during the attack - left him with an eerie feeing.

"It's not like actually going into church or something," he said. "It just feels almost like going to a visitation at a funeral home, knowing that 1,177 bodies are under you and seeing the little bubbles of oil coming up."

Web posted on Thursday, December 07, 2006

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