The following story was recorded in 1994, from Bill Henderson's book "Escape From The Sea".
For information on Bill's book click HERE
Private First Class, U. S. Marine Corps.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Later that day, when the fight was over and we had calmed down a little, several of us tried to lift two fully loaded canisters but none of us could. At the time I weighed about one hundred and fifty pounds.
I was nineteen when I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I had expected to join a marine combat division after surviving boot camp, but I was assigned to the marine detachment aboard the USS Helena.
On the morning of December 7th, 1941 I had the 0800 to 1200 watch as corporal of the guard. I had relieved the previous watch a little early and was on the fan tail with the marine honor guard for the "raising of the colors."
As the signalmen started to raise the flag, the ship's band began playing the national anthem while the marine guard came to attention with their rifles in the "present arms" position. That was when the Japanese planes started bombing and strafing Ford Island. We had a bird's eye view and when we saw those planes we headed for our battle stations. Mine was in number three turret.
When I got there I was told to go up on the bow to help man the fifty caliber machine guns. The ship had four of these guns manned by the marine contingent, two on the starboard and two on the port side.
I went to the port side guns, but an awning and locked ammunition boxes delayed us in firing at the Jap planes. The awnings, put up while in port, had to be cut down before the guns could get a clear field of fire. The ammunition ready boxes, located near the guns, were locked, and the keys were nowhere around so more time was lost in breaking into those boxes.
The ready boxes contained only a small supply of ammunition, about 750 rounds per gun, not enough for the gunners to keep up an effective, sustained rate of fire. The main supply of ammunition was kept down below in the ammunition magazine and had to be carried topside to the guns by hand. It was stored in canisters weighing about ninety pounds each.
It was extremely difficult to carry even one of those heavy canisters up the ladder and through the hatches to the guns, yet Major Kelly and I, among others, managed to carry two at a time. I don't know how we did it but supplying the gunners with enough ammunition required a superhuman effort by a lot of marines.
The marine gunners that fired those fifty caliber machine guns on the port side shot down one of the six planes the Helena destroyed that morning.
During the fight I suddenly remembered we had a prisoner in the brig, a fellow by the name of J.J. Burke. As corporal of the guard it was my responsibility to release him in the event of any emergency that might endanger him, but in the excitement I had completely forgotten about him. I couldn't leave my battle station without permission so I told Major Kelly and he sent me down to release him.
The man had been in a brawl in one of those popular "hotels" in downtown Honolulu and was waiting a court martial when the Japs struck. I don't recall that he was returned to the brig or court marshaled for his escapade. I guess Captain English thought the man's performance during the attack earned him a pardon.
I joined the marines for the adventure and sure got it, serving in both Korea and Vietnam. I retired from the marines after thirty years.
President Roosevelt said, December 7, 1941 was a day to remember. So were a lot of others.
To see a recent picture of Nicholas's, click Here.
The following are Nicholas's WWII awards.
When we learn about his Korean and Vietnam awards, they will be posted as well. (Ed.)
Navy Unit Commendation
Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Medal
American Defense Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic Pacific Medal
With Eight (8) Battle Stars
World War II Victory Medal