PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii --
The 88-year-old man takes his time to sit down. His face is weathered by the years so that his distinguishing features tell a story even before he opens his mouth. He may be slow to move now, but he’s still quick to remember that morning.
He woke up at 7:00 a.m., dressed himself, and went to the mess hall for breakfast. Business as usual. After breakfast, he went topside, or above deck. He heard explosions at the North end of Ford Island. He was curious, but not necessarily alarmed; “It’s probably one of the squadrons doing maneuvers,” he thought.
It was when a plane came straight down the runway and began firing shots that he realized what was happening.
“It’s the Japanese!” someone shouted.
That’s when everyone aboard the USS Phoenix rushed to their battle stations. For 18-year-old seaman Louis E. Gore, that meant gun turret number four. Gore and his brothers-in-arms fought long enough to see the USS Arizona burst into flames and sink to the harbor floor. He remembers seeing many of her sailors and Marines floating, lifeless, in the water.
The Marines and sailors aboard the Phoenix, for the most part, were unscathed and were one of the first crews out of the harbor during the attack, not to escape, but to go hunting.
“We were going to track down the carriers that were launching these planes,” Gore said. “It was the Phoenix, maybe eight destroyers and few smaller boats. But after three days of searching, we found nothing, so we came back to what was left of Pearl Harbor.”
“We started cleaning, and then bodies would surface and we would go collect them, many of them from the USS Arizona,” Gore said.
Gore returned to Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 2011 with his two sons, daughter and granddaughter for the first time in about 50 years to attend the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Commemoration. He wanted to show his family where he had fought 70 years ago.
Gore also served as a Corpsman for 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and actually wore his Marine Corps ball cap to the ceremony. It was decorated with different pins and military memorabilia, including one pin that read, “I’ve survived damn near everything!”
And he had. While attached to the Marines, Gore fought in the battles of Peleliu and Guadalcanal. He later served two tours in Vietnam. He remembers the great number of casualties both sides suffered at Guadalcanal and how his Marine buddies took good care of him when times were tough.
“I remember hearing ‘corpsman up’,” Gore said. “That’s the one thing you never wanted to hear at night on that island. It gives me chills to think about it to this day. My Marine buddies would say, ‘don’t go doc, please don’t go. We’ll go get him and bring him back to you.’ And they would. It was hard being a corpsman because many times, you would want to do something, you were expected to do something, but there was really nothing I could.”
His family has heard all of his story dozens of times, if not more, but they still listen intently, like it’s the first they had ever heard of the events. They know that one day they’ll be forced to remember the story, rather than hear it first hand.
Kim Griffin, Gore’s daughter, agrees that this may be the last time this many Pearl Harbor survivors are at the annual commemoration, or anywhere for that manner.
According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 850 World War II survivors pass away every day. The VA also estimated roughly 2,079,000 American World War II survivors are still living. It’s possible that on the 80th commemoration, there could be no survivors in attendance.
“There are things resident in these men’s minds that can’t be found anywhere else,” (Ret.) Marine Maj. Jay Burzak, said. “Their ability to recount and relate their experiences needs to be captured and preserved.”
Burzak, a New Hampshire native, grew up listening to his father’s stories of World War II. He’s familiar with the desire to hear the stories again, and perhaps, discover things that were never shared.
“I wish I had pressed a little harder (before he died) to find out more of the things he wouldn’t discuss,” Burzak said. “People need to know those stories. It’s our history.”
Although they were hard times for Gore, he prefers sharing these stories with people. He too understands the importance of passing these memories down to future generations.
“Some of these veterans have stories that you’ll never find anywhere else,” Gore said. “There are still memories of theirs that they haven’t told stories of yet. I know I have vivid memories, not necessarily nightmares. I haven’t yet woke up screaming or anything like that. I’ve just always felt that we were doing what needed to be done. I just wish there were more people to carry these stories on. And that’s all I really have to say about that ...”
Mal Middlesworth, Marine Pearl Harbor survivor, vice president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and keynote speaker of the commemoration ceremony, passed a related message to visitors just before the ceremony ended. “Those who forget history, relive it,” he warned.