A Port Richey man recalls experiences that terrible day.
By JODIE TILLMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007
The USS Arizona tilts into the sea after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
[AP photo (1941)]
[Mike Pease | Times]
Werner Klemm, 84, of Port Richey lost his best friend as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
[Courtesy of Werner Klemm]
Four years after Pearl Harbor, Werner Klemm had this portrait taken in his Navy uniform.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Navy seaman Werner Klemm was dreaming about what he would do when he went ashore on break. Maybe visit the USS California, to see a buddy. Or Pali, a place where he heard strong winds could blow waterfalls uphill.
Just before 8 a.m., from the deck of the USS Dobbin, Klemm noticed airplanes coming overhead, he said, "fluttering down like cards from a deck." Then the bombs started falling.
The 18-year-old from New Jersey was in the middle of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Klemm escaped with minor injuries and continued with the Navy in the Pacific as a fireman and boilermaker.
Now 84 and living in Port Richey, Klemm spoke to the St. Petersburg Times about losing his best friend on that day 66 years ago.
What were you doing Dec. 7, 1941?
At five minutes till 8, the first call to quarters came over the bugle. At that time I noticed these airplanes coming. I didn't think anything of these at the time because periodically the Army would run a mock air raid. ... Then a plane came over the ship, and I saw two big red circles on the wings. ...
I saw this pilot looking over the side right at us. And it seemed so low that he could've thrown potatoes at us. Anyway, I saw two bombs come down from the plane. I dropped the ammunition and I laid down on deck. The bomb on my side, it fell short and I got splashed with water. The one on the other side exploded just before it went in the water. It killed the three men on the gun crew there. The one fella, it took his head off. The other fella, it took his leg off. The other one was my best friend, he and I owned a car together. It took his side out. His name was Roy Gross. He came from Oak Park, Ill.
What was that like, to see your friend die?
We had bought a set of weights, and they were up on the boat deck. In our spare time we liked to work out. But he lay on the sick bed, and he took the cover off and said 'Look.' And his whole side was gone. And he started praying.
Is the noise one of the things you remember most?
No, the smell.
What did it smell like?
When something explodes, you smell cordite. It's unique. You've got to blow up some gunpower to get the smell of it.
What else do you remember about that day?
Our gunnery officer, he was pretty old. He looked like a schoolteacher. He had the rimless glasses clipped to his nose. And he was pear shaped, this scholarly looking gentleman. He looked at me and shook his finger at me, and he said, "This is no tiddlywinks, this is the real thing." He didn't have to tell me that. I saw the Arizona blow up and the other ships turning over and airplanes going down all over the place. So I knew it wasn't any tiddlywinks.
After a while, a fella came up to me and asked if I'd go in a small boat and go over to the battleships. He took the engine, and I took the rudder. We went over to the battleships and started pulling men out of the water, taking them over to Merry's Point. After we got most of them out, we hung out at the Oklahoma because it was capsized. And every once in a while somebody popped out of the water. They were making their way up. ... The water was on fire. There was oil a foot thick all over everything. We were in the boats, night and day, until Friday. Then I more or less collapsed.
Did you ever get harassed for being German?
Only in school. Because we dressed European. We wore suspenders.
There aren't many survivors left. Do you worry about what's going to happen when you're all gone?
Well, when I was a kid, the big thing were parades. These parades, there was a few Civil War veterans in them. That was about 65 years after the Civil War. Little by little, they quit walking and they were going in cars. And then the Spanish-American War veterans, a few of them, but there were a lot of World War I veterans, but that was only about 12, 13 years after the end of the war. Now it's the same thing. You used to see a lot of World War II veterans in a parade. Now you see a few, and they're riding.
How did Pearl Harbor change you as a person?
I don't know, really, looking back. I guess I'm not that philosophical. Maybe I wasn't as happy-go-lucky. I guess I was just wishing the war would be over.
Did the attack make you lose faith in anything?
Well, we lost faith in the officers. They were having parties on Dec. 6. The enlisted men had a feeling they'd been sold down the river by Washington. But discipline was restored, and things got back to like they were before.
Do a lot of the younger men (at the Marine Corps League Holiday Detachment headquarters in New Port Richey) ask you questions about Pearl Harbor?
No, not much. I don't know if they know that I was there. (Laughing) I make the desserts here for Wednesday meals. They know me for the desserts.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 992-8267.
[Last modified December 7, 2007, 02:12:02]
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