“The Japs are bombing us! The Japs are bombing us!”
Even the men who saw the planes couldn’t understand. One of them was Fireman Frank Stock of the repair ship Vestal, moored beside the Arizona along Battleship Row. Stock and six of his mates had taken the church launch for services ashore. They moved across the channel and into Southeast Loch, that long, narrow strip of water pointing directly at the battleships.
On their right they passed the cruisers, nosed into the Navy Yard piers; on the left some subs tucked into their berths. As they reached the Merry’s Point landing at the end of the loch, six or eight torpedo planes flew in low from the east, about 50 feet above the water and heading down the loch toward the battleships. The men were mildly surprised — they had never seen U.S. planes come in from that direction. They were even more surprised when the rear-seat gunners sprayed them with machine-gun bullets. Then Stock recalled the
stories he had read about “battle-condition” maneuvers in the Southern states. This must be the same idea — for extra realism they had even painted red circles on the planes. The truth finally dawned when one of his friends caught a slug in the stomach from the fifth plane that passed.
On the Nevada at the northern end of Battleship Row, Leader Oden McMillan waited with his band to play morning colors at eight o’clock. His 23 men had been in position since 7:55, when the blue prep signal went up. As they moved into formation, some of the musicians noticed planes diving at the other end of Ford Island. McMillan saw a lot of dirt and sand go up, but thought it was another drill. Now it was 7:58 — two minutes to go — and planes started coming in low from Southeast Loch. Heavy, muffled explosions began booming down the line … enough to worry anyone. And then it was eight o’clock.
The band crashed into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” A Japanese plane skimmed across the harbor … dropped a torpedo at the Arizona … and peeled off right over the Nevada’s fantail. The rear gunner sprayed the men stand- ing at attention, but he must have been a poor shot. He missed the entire band and Marine guard, lined up in two neat rows. He did succeed in shredding the flag, which was just being raised.
McMillan knew now but kept on conducting. The years of training had taken over — it never occurred to him that once he had begun playing the National Anthem, he could possibly stop. Another strafer flashed by. This time McMillan unconsciously paused as the deck splintered around him, but he quickly picked up the beat again. The entire band stopped and started again with him, as though they had rehearsed it for weeks. Not a man broke formation until the final note died. Then everyone ran wildly for cover. Ensign Joe Taussig, officer of the deck, pulled the alarm bell. The ship’s bugler got ready to blow general quarters, but Taussig took the bugle and tossed it overboard. Somehow it seemed too much like make-believe at a time like this. Instead he shouted over the PA system again and again, “All hands, general quarters. Air raid! This is no drill!” Ship after ship began to catch on. The executive officer of the supply ship Castor shouted, “The Japs are bombing us! The Japs are bombing us!” For an instant Seaman Bill Deas drew a blank and wondered whether the man was speaking to him.On the submarine Tautog, the topside anchor watch shouted down the forward torpedo hatch, “The war is on, no fooling!”
from "Day Of Infamy" by Walter Lord