Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Day of Infamy - A Lifetime of Taciturnity















As the United States slowly recovered from the great depression of the 1930s, there were few more exciting opportunities for a young man than a career in the United States Military. It offered a stable income, warm meals, a semi-comfortable bed, and the chance to "See The World!" Exotic ports of call awaited those who chose to spend a few years of their youth serving their country.

Pearl Harbor in the territory of Hawaii was the homeport of the Army Air Corp (AAC 7th AF) and the Navy Pacific Fleet, a wonderful "home away from home" for the men who preserved America's interests abroad. Though the European continent found itself embroiled in a bitter world war in the latter days of the 1930s, in the Pacific there was no hint of trouble. American ships and planes made routine patrols, practiced drills that most men thought would never be needed, and then returned to Pearl Harbor for periods of rest, relaxation, and recreation.

Although AAC personnel were still referring to themselves as the Army Air Corp, in fact, effective June 20, 1941, the ACC had then become known as the combat wing of the AAF (Army Air Force). Then just a few years later, on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force (as we know it today) was born.

Hickam Field was completed and officially activated on Sept. 15, 1938. It was the principal army airfield in Hawaii and the only one large enough to accommodate the B-17 bomber. In connection with defense plans for the Pacific, aircraft were brought to Hawaii throughout 1941 to prepare for potential hostilities. The first mass flight of bombers (21 B-17Ds) from Hamilton Field, California, arrived at Hickam on May 14, 1941.

The B-17 was one of the major offensive weapons of WWII with the G model playing the major role in Allied bombardment. By December 1941, the AAC Hawaiian Air Force had been an integrated command for slightly more than one year and consisted of 754 officers and 6,706 enlisted men, with 233 aircraft assigned at its three primary bases (Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows). During the war years, these bases played a major role in pilot training and aircraft assembly work, in addition to seeing as a supply center for both air arid ground troops. Hickam served as the hub of the Pacific aerial network, supporting transient aircraft ferrying troops and supplies to and evacuating the wounded.

The weekend of December 6 and 7, 1941, promised to be a great time for all Airmen, Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Coast Guards, as well as the crews and support personnel. There wasn't the slightest hint of trouble; even the weather seemed to be smiling on the tropical port. However, for ten days prior to that weekend, Hickam Field was on full alert. It seemed as though they were expecting something to happen. No one was allowed to leave the base during this alert. Suddenly, for some unknown reason, on Saturday, December 6, 1941, the alert was lifted. Saturday night a wealthy Japanese banker held a big party for the officers at the Hickam Officer’s Club. Looking back, it appears as if that party were all part of a bigger plan.

When the sun rose that fateful Sunday morning, a 21 year old Military OCC Airplane Maintenance Technician from the State of Michigan, had little opportunity to be homesick; there was too much to see and do.

Lloyd Walter Grieve (Born: January 2, 1920 - Died: September 10, 1996) was called out early that morning, due to extensive morning drill exercises and maneuvers planned for the fleet of B17 Bombers stationed at Hickam.

Technician Grieve reported to Hickam Field on March 9, 1941, upon completion of his preliminary round of Mechanics and Maintenance Technician Training, at McChord Field near Seattle, Washington.


He joined up with the 880th Bomb Squadron, 383rd Bomb Group, and became a certified technician for most of the big bombers utilized by the AAC in WWII, including the B-17 and B-29 Bombers.

Glamour of the Air Corpe is usually consigned to flight personnel, but the fact is, it takes seven ground crew men to keep even pursuit ships in flying shape. Although the Bomber/Fighter Mechanics were little known or generally appreciated, it is their responsibility to maintain the power, accuracy and deadliness of each plane in the air forces' rapidly expanding armada. Though short on glamour, these men are long on what it takes to keep'em flying. For most, but unfortunately not for Lloyd Grieve, there was limited duty on this beautiful tropical Sunday morning, which was affording ample opportunity for most of the men to enjoy their brief stay in Paradise.

Out on the airstrip, the mighty B-17 Bombers that remained at Hickam Field, were being rolled out for preparation of the day's activities. And that is precisely why Grieve was already gathering his equipment for the day, at the break of dawn, while others were either sleeping in, preparing for Sunday service, breakfast, an early morning softball game, or simply to go down to the beach for a glimpse at the sunrise.

Like many who served in World War II, Grieve loved his country, respected his job, but never regarding himself as especially brave. Years later, whenever anyone would ask what had he done to receive so many commendation medals, Grieve would jokingly reply: "For being a damn fool!"

Grieve had, at one time or another, worked on many of the aircraft that were on hand at Hickam that morning, whose inventory included:

33 Douglas B-18 Bolo 2-engine standard bombers

12 Boeing B-17D Flying Fortress 4-engine bombers


13 Douglas A-20A Havoc 2-eng attack bombers


2 Douglas C-33 (DC-2) 2-engine fighters


* One of Hickam Field's Hangers on Dec. 6, 1941

A half mile away from Grieve's location, in the harbor, there were ninety-six ships that morning and no reason to expect any trouble. After all, the Honolulu Advertiser, that very morning, stated how Japanese Ambassador Nomura was going to meet with Secretary Cordell Hull in Washington that very morning to talk about peace.

As the hour 8 o'clock hour neared, just moments from the raising of the colors, all was peaceful and relaxed. On the USS Nevada the band was beginning the first strains of the National Anthem for the hoisting of the flag. The USS Tennessee reported very slight wind ripples on the water, and winds from the NE at 12 mph. The USS Oklahoma reported clear skies with "intermittent moving fleecy clouds."

It was now exactly 7:53 A.M. and events were about to unfold that would propel the United States into a World War that would ultimately cost more than a quarter-million American men and women their lives. On this day alone more than 2,400 men, women and children would die in Paradise.

Back at Hickam, Grieve was now on the Airfield, methodically reviewing his checklist prior to inspection and applying whatever adjustments were required. The ground crew was readily preparing for the arrival of the remaining B-17s which spent the previous days flying reconnaissance throughout the Pacific theatre.

Grieve and the others heard the distant roar, assuming the boys were now returning. Coming in at about 10,000 feet, those on the field could begin to see the shadows of a tremendous number of aircraft. This was the first sign that something was seriously wrong.

Just as that thought was sinking in, a black object could be seen exploding from the lead plane. As Grieve watched it turn its wings up, he then realized, these were not the B-17s. In seconds, the Rising Sun could be clearly seen on the side of the planes, indicating they were under attack from the Japanese.

The men couldn’t remember that they’d ever had any training on what to do in case of air raid. Some of the guys ran across the street into the parking lot. One was shot in the rump and, strangely, later died. The Squadron Commander Major Laverne G. “Blondie” Saunders, who was overseeing the preparation by the mechanics, came running from the officers quarters and slid under the belly of one of the B-17s, alongside the barracks, just as a Jap plane strafed him. He yelled to anyone that could hear him to get to the ‘flight line’ and to “get those planes airborne!”

A M/Sgt., in the 26th Bomb Squad, ordered his men to line up in formation to march to the hanger, but a Jap plane dropped a ‘Frag’ bomb and splattered many of them onto the walls. Immediately the 23rd Bomb Squad guys took off running on their own. As it was now, throughout Pearl Harbor, there was mass chaos everywhere.

At precisely 8:08 a.m. a searing flash and tremendous blast could be seen, heard and felt as one of the Jap planes fired an armor-piercing bomb, which detonated in the forward magazine
of the USS Arizona. The ship crumpled and sank, with nearly a thousand men trapped below, including Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd and the Arizona Captain Franklin Van Valkenbergh.

Like many others, Grieve had taken cover under the belly of one of the B-17’s, however, anything that resembled a plane or a hanger was now under fire by the Japanese attackers.

Somehow, despite numerous bullets and bombs, Lloyd Grieve found himself alive but buried up to his neck in the debris. Above all the noise and confusion, he could make out T/Sgt. “Shanty” O’Shea (who was hiding in the concrete bombsight vault, just outside the radio shack near the airfield, drunkenly yelling: "The Flag's Still Flying Fellas!"

Two of the mechanics, Bill Hamilton, and Lee Benbrooks, managed to dodge the fire and debris, and headed back to the barracks for pistols and helmets. They each grabbed a .30 caliber machine gun and ammo from the armament shack and ran out to install them in dispersed B-17’s. Lee got his gun going first and, not having tracer rounds in his ammo belt, was firing at Jap fighters without drawing return fire. But when Bill opened up with tracer fire, the Japs dove on them, and a bullet went thru the fuselage right between Lee’s legs.

The low-level attack eased up, but then silver planes, coming in over the mouth of the harbor, starting their bomb-drop at the far end of Hickam’s Hanger Row. They hit every hanger down the line including the 31st Bomb/4th econ squadrons’ hanger. The bombs meant for the 23rd and 72nd Squad’s hanger drifted off toward the barracks. Consequently the 23rd only had seven men killed during the raid.

Suddenly a plane came zooming down the line from the direction of the mountains. It was a P-40 fighter from Wheeler Field and was completely silhouetted by a hail of tracers from machine guns on top of the Marine Barracks at Pearl. The pilot kept dropping down, trying to keep the buildings and trees between him and those guns, until he was 10 feet off the ground. Some of those bullets fell around Grieve, still buried under the debris, on the airfield.

When it seemed the attack was over, Grieve was pulled out, and assumed KP duties, serving much needed nourishment to those who survived. Others were given permission to go back to the barracks. The Mess Hall in the center of the barrack wings had been hit by bombs and many died there.

By late morning, rumor had spread throughout the Harbor, that the Japs were mounting a follow up attack and that some planes had actually landed. For fear of hand to hand combat, orders were given to start digging fox holes. For Lloyd Grieve, his KP duties were abruptly ended for the time being as he joined the many others in the big dig.

The men stayed hunkered down in those fox holes for three days. They were instructed to 'shoot at anything that moved!'

It was intended as a preventive action to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from influencing the war, which Japan was planning to wage in Southeast Asia against Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. The attack consisted of two aerial attack waves totaling 353 aircraft, launched from six Japanese aircraft carriers. These attacks sank four U.S. Navy Battleships (two of which were raised and returned to service late in the war) and damaged four more. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, and one minelayer, destroyed 188 aircraft, and caused personnel losses of 2,402 killed and 1,282 wounded. The power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section - which they did not appear to have too much of this day - were ironicially not hit). Japanese losses were minimal, at 29 aircraft and five midget submarines, with a mere 65 servicemen killed or wounded.

Hickam suffered extensive property damage, aircraft losses, and personnel casualties totaling 139 killed and 303 wounded. The bombing and strafing of Hickam Field was an important objective, because the success of the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was dependent on eliminating air opposition and precluding US planes from following their aircraft back to their carriers and bombing the task force. Once the threat was confirmed to be over, Grieve was approached by his superiors, who handed him a gun and told him to “start practicing son, we need a Tail Gunner and you’ve got the job!”

For the remainder, of the conflict in the Pacific, Technician Sgt. Lloyd Grieve assumed the position of Tail Gunner, on first the B-17s, and then later on the amazing Flying Fortress of the B-29s (which were introduced two years later). The B-29 Superfortress bomber was the single most complicated and expensive weapon produced by the United States during World War II.


The Tail Gunner's prime purpose was defending against enemy fighter attacks from the rear, or "tail", of the plane. For Tech. Sgt. Grieve, there was no time for extensive studies, his would be purely on the job training. As a gunner, he operated a flexible 1x20 mm cannon, or a 0.50 inch M2 Browning mounted machine gun emplacement, at the tail end of the aircraft, with a generally unobstructed view.

Over the next three and one-half years, Grieve would see duty as a gunner in some of the wars most famous battles, which includes: the Battle of Midway (1942) and the Solomon Islands campaign (1942-45).

It was a well known phenominom that the same complete crew never went up twice, due to one or more of the crewmen being killed. On one particular bombing mission, Tech. Sgt. Grieve was using an empty amunition crate as a seat situated at his Tail Gunner position. This particular battle had been intense and Grieve, as he was that December day on the airfield at Hickam, once they landed realized that he was lucky to be alive. The very crate, he had been using as a seat, now contained bullet holes, mere inches from Grieve 'buying the farm.'

As to his having survived all of the incredibly intense missions he flew on, as well as, the two near-death experiences, his surviving wife Barbara claims today that "it just wasn't his time!"

In early May 1945, while the most famous of the B-29 Bombers, was being testing and prepared for its maiden voyage to North Field, Tinian, in the Pacific, Tech. Sgt. Grieve, along with seven others, was originally named to the crew of this historic plane.


However, just two weeks later, Grieve was placed on sick call and sent back to Pearl Harbor for observation and treatment at Tripler General Hospital at Fort Shafter.

It was on June 4, 1945, just two days prior to allied troops storming the beaches at Normandy, that the decision was made, based on a undisclosed injury/llness and 'demobilization' , to end his distinguished military career.

Meanwhile, on August 5, 1945, somewhere in a Top Secret location in the Pacific, the Little Boy (Ll1) Atomic Bomb was being loaded onto the very same aircraft to which Tech. Sgt. Grieve had been assigned just three month previous. After 'Little Boy' was fully loaded, the name 'Enola Gay' was painted onto the nose of that B 29 Bomber.

And as they say the rest is history!

August 6: First Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan
August 8: Soviets declare war on Japan
August 9: Second Atomic Bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan
August 14: Japanese agree to unconditional surrender
September 2: Japanese surrender, VJ Day
September 8: Japanese forces in China surrender
September 12: Japanese forces in southeast Asia surrender
October 24: United Nations officially comes into existence
October 25: Technician Sgt. Lloyd Walter Grieve is presented with a complete and honorable discharge.

When the war ended Lloyd W. Grieve was honored with a multitude of decorations and medals; which included:

* 4 Overseas Bars
* Silver Star Medal 23976
* GO #4
* Good Conduct Ribbon
* American Defense Service Ribbon
* 1 Battle Star
* Distinquished Unit Badge

* DFC GO #79 HQ USAF ISPA
* Lapel Button Star # 80 HQ USA

* DB Air Medal GO 13 USAF ISPA
* Among many others

He shall forever be remembered as a Great American, a Patriot (having been honored as part of the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.), and he also just happens to be my beautiful wife Andrea (Andy's) father.

Throughout his entire life, Lloyd Grieve would never talk about the events of that dark day in Pearl Harbor. One can only imagine how horrific and traumatic it truly was.

Any chance at obtaining a complete account, from his perspective, was taken to the grave with him on September 10, 1996. He was survived by his wife Barbara (who resides in the City of Au Train in Michigan's upper peninsula); his sons Russell, Jeffrey and James; along with his daughters Andrea and Sheila. His memory has been blessed with many grandchildren and a growing list of great-grandchildren.

The research gathered for this rememberance, and tribute, was based on the limited information his wife Barbara and children have learned over the years, as well as, from accounts of those who were there that day, either as a Mechanic (who probably knew, and was working beside him) or crewmen at Hickam Field. I also utilized many military and army web sites which provided a vast knowledge of fact and information verification, including his missions throughout the Pacific Theatre, as well as his Enola Gay assignment.

In addition, as an important footnote, his son Jeffrey Grieve proudly served in the capacity of Search and Rescue for the U.S. Navy. And just like his father, Jeff was stationed in Hawaii at the Kaneohe Marinecorp Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, which just happens to be on that same island of Oahu.

While Lloyd's oldest son Russell (who himself proudly served in the U.S. Air Force) saw his own son enlist in the Army a few years back. Tony Grieve has now proudly servced in both Bosnia and Iraq (two tours of duty). Tony, like his grandfather, is a Mechanic for the Kiowa Aerial Recon & Attack Helicopters. At this time, he is considering making the military his career. He is now assigned to Military Police. We all thank Tony for his dedicated service to our country; asking for 'God's Blessings' and to keep him safe.

One final important and historical note regarding Tony, as he too was stationed in Hawaii, at the Wheeler Army Air Field, on the island of Oahu.

As we remember the events of 67 years ago today, I present this article and testament, on behalf of the entire Grieve family, in the loving memory of Lloyd Walter Grieve. And he would be so very proud to know that three generations of the Grieve Family, have now been stationed in Hawaii, with the sole purpose of protecting and defending these United States of America.

But only with, just maybe, a slight hint of feeling a 'damn fool!'

2 comments:

Tina Hemond said...

Excellent post - lest we forget - kudos.

Andy said...

What a wonderful tribute to my father Jimmy - thank you so much for the time you spent researching and writing this article. I have passed it onto all of my children in hopes that they print this article and one day give it to their children so they can learn something great about their great grandfather! To this day - I miss my father very much......life's destinies are something that we all have to live with - and - I truly believe when it is your time - it is your time......I am glad that Pearl Harbor wasn't my dad's. I have no idea what kind of person my father was prior to the war - but I am sure it changed his outlook on life as it would anyone!