December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day

When the USS Redwood arrived at the Navy Yard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in early December of 1941, it was slated to be fitted out with some additional equipment—sound gear, radar, depth charges—military gear the ship builder in Ohio hadn’t been able to provide, and even some non-military gear—including a washing machine. From Portsmouth its order were to report to the 10th naval District Headquarter in Puerto Rico. San Juan.

“It was a Sunday,” Joe recalls, “but I don’t remember going to Mass that day. I don’t remember a Mass in the Navy Yard, and I don’t remember going into town to go to church. So apparently I didn’t. But anyways, that afternoon, I was down in the compartment having a nap. I always slept whenever I could.” (We know that by now, don’t we?) “And some of the fellas were up in the mess compartment, and they had a radio. You know how it is—three or four guys, just sitting around listening to the radio on a Sunday afternoon. And then the news came. Shorty Horton, (this little short guy—I don’t know how he ever got into the Navy, he was so short) came down and woke me up. He said, ‘Hey, the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor.’”

And I said, “Are they here?”

He said, “No. Pearl Harbor.”

“I said, ‘Aaah, don’t bother me… Let me sleep.’ Well, of course, then it sunk in. I leaped outta the sack. Up the ladder I went, into the mess compartment; the guys were listening to the radio. And the Captain was there, and I said, ‘Hey, Captain, we’re at war!’

The Captain nodded.

“‘Whadda we do now?’ I knew we had no ammunition. We had three inch-fifty guns and about four fifty-caliber machine guns. But we had no ammunition. So, suddenly, we had orders to get underway. I don’t know who gave the order, but it must have been the commanding officer for that area. So we bummed some ammunition from a couple of subs that were in at Portsmouth, too. We were told to get underway and go out and patrol a certain area. By then night had fallen. It was dark. No one knew what to expect. We didn’t know whether Hitler had tie-ins with Japan and the Germans would be coming over on this coast. Because at that time, Hitler was winning over in Europe. The U.S. military leaders—they really didn’t know what was happening. No one did. So out we went. We were patrolling, but we didn’t have any guns big enough to do any real damage. So our orders were, if you see anything, ram it. They were going to sacrifice us. That was the order. As it happened, I had my watch to stand. So I went down to the engine room. I’m down in the engine room, and the bridge calls down and says, ‘We need a man to stand by the searchlight in case we come onto something and need to know what it is.’ They wanted somebody to man that searchlight. Oh, it was a powerful light. It was huge. Huge. It was what they called an arc light. Two charges—a positive and a negative—come together and make an intense bright light. Next thing I know, the Chief says, ‘Hey, you, go on up.’ So I go up to the compartment. Of course this is winter! December 7th. But we didn’t have heavy winter coats. So I put on a sweater over my dungarees, and I put on another pair of blue sailor pants over the dungarees. And I put my pea coat on, and my watch cap. And I climbed up to the search light platform, and there’s another guy there—Sam Ferrar. Sam was on lookout. So I’m up there with Sam, and it’s snowing. And it’s cold. It’s really a wild night. I said, ‘Sam, this is foolish. This is crazy!’ He says, ‘I know it.’ So I took the cover off the searchlight. It’s a huge canvas cover. I stretched it out on the deck, and I crawled in and pulled it up around me. So I’m well covered, protected. After a little while, Sam kicked me. He said, ‘Hey! Move over! I’m getting in there, too.’ I said, ‘Sam! You can’t. You’re…you’re the lookout.’ ‘I’ll be looking for airplanes, then.’ Joe laughs. You couldn’t see the hand in front of your face, it was so pitch black. Snow blowing. Out on the Atlantic. No binoculars. No nothing. Just look out into the dark.”

Thus, Joe Flynn and Sam Ferrar protected the coastline of the northeastern United States on the night of December 7, 1941.