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Pearl Harbor survivors share their memories

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pearl-harborAs Pearl Harbor survivors, Vaughn Drake of Lexington and Herman Horn of Wilmore belong to an exclusive and dwindling fraternity.

Drake, 98, of Lexington and Horn, 96, a Frankfort resident now living at the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore, are among a handful of Kentucky survivors of the Japanese attack 75 years ago. There are only four or five survivors living in Kentucky, said Don Dixon, chairman of the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Association.

Drake and Horn were in the Army on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Drake was among engineers building barracks on the island’s eastern edge. Horn was part of the harbor’s artillery defenses.

“I tell my kids, ‘When I’m gone, I want my memories to go with me,'” Horn said last week.

Nevertheless, here are some of those memories.

Drake was in charge of running a temporary power plant so carpenters building new barracks at Kaneohe Naval Air Station had electricity for saws and other equipment. Kaneohe, now a installation, is about 10 miles east of Pearl Harbor as the crow flies and 28 miles by car.

“We were getting ready to go to breakfast, and we heard all these planes flying over and making a lot of noise,” Drake said. “We just figured it was the Army Air Corps carrying out maneuvers for practice, like they did a lot. We didn’t pay much attention to it.

“Finally we left to go to the chow line to get our breakfast, and we noticed these planes flying over the naval air station, diving and everything. And we thought, ‘Boy, they’re really putting on a good show.’ Even though we saw the red spots on the wing — which was the Japanese symbol — we still couldn’t believe it. …

“About that time, one of the officers had been in contact with headquarters at Schofield Barracks, and they said, ‘This is an attack! The Japanese are attacking the whole island!'”

Drake remembers seeing a Japanese plane crash at Kaneohe. “Later that day, some of us went over there and tore some pieces out of it, and this is a little control stick that I got. I don’t know for sure what it is. … It’s got some Japanese writing on it, which I never did get translated.”

It was later learned that the plane had been piloted by Lt. Fusata Iida (the first name is sometimes spelled Fusada), who had taken off from a Japanese carrier.

Meanwhile, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Horn was at the edge of Pearl Harbor to protect anti-submarine nets from air attack.

He awoke early that morning to go to the mess tent and get an apple and a bottle of milk. He put them beside his cot and went back to sleep.

By the time the attack began and chaos ensued, Horn forgot all about his snack.

“I often wondered where my apple and my milk went,” he said last week.

As smoke rose from the harbor, Horn said in a 1991 interview, “they lined us up, gave us 35 rounds of rifle ammunition and told us not to use it. Typical Army.

“Then we got into trucks and started for Camp Barette, where all our anti-aircraft guns were.”

The Japanese planes were strafing “everything they saw,” Horn said in the 1991 interview. “And when they saw our trucks, here they come. When they did, we’d jump off the trucks and hit the cane fields beside the road to take cover. Those of us in the back of the truck would watch for planes. When we’d see one, we’d beat on the top for the driver to stop. Then into the cane fields we’d go.”

The next day, Horn sent a short telegram to his parents in Frankfort to let them know he was unharmed and would write as soon as possible.

When night fell, many anticipated that the Japanese would parachute onto the island to begin an invasion in earnest.

“So that night, everybody was pretty much on guard,” Drake said.

“A funny thing that happened: We had two stacks of lumber down at the end of the camp that we used to build the barracks with. Well, it came a pretty stiff wind and started flipping that lumber up and down and made a noise.”

The noise spooked the engineers so “everybody started shooting at it” because they thought the Japanese had arrived to begin an assault, Drake said. “Next morning, we looked at it and that lumber was splintered all over the place. I bet 100 shots had been fired into that lumber pile. People were trigger-happy.”

After the war, Drake and Horn returned to Kentucky, started families and went to work in the private sector. Drake retired as a longtime engineer with General Telephone of Kentucky. Horn retired after working as a master machinist for the distillery that is now Buffalo Trace in Frankfort.

Drake did not return to Oahu or Pearl Harbor, but he occasionally shared his story at public meetings or in interviews.

“I do feel like a part of history,” Drake said. “I haven’t made it the big thing in my life.”

Until he moved to Thomson-Hood in August, Horn kept a cabinet filled with Pearl Harbor memorabilia. He would sometimes share his story with school students who interviewed him. He returned to Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary in 1991.

“He marched in the parade they had for the survivors,” said Horn’s daughter Tobie Dunbar, 67. “He went back to places he had been. He thoroughly enjoyed it and was glad to be there and see it all again. It was emotional to relive stuff, but it was a good time.”

“He always said he didn’t do anything special,” said Horn’s daughter Cindy Walton, 62. “But we don’t believe that, because he survived and came back.”

Greg Kocher: 859-231-3305, @HLpublicsafety

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(c)2016 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) —  at www.kentucky.com

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