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Cumming man saw Pearl Harbor attack
9/11 refreshed memories of Pearl Harbor
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Doug Huggins stands for a portrait Tuesday. - photo by AUTUMN VETTER

Dec. 7, 1941, started like any other day but soon turned upside-down for a young sailor from Texas — and the rest of the world.

Seventy years ago, Doug Huggins — stationed aboard the USS St. Louis in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — had finished breakfast and was preparing to head to the USS Arizona to a visit a longtime friend, a buddy who had enlisted with him in 1940.

"We were going to spend the day going to church and/or going over to the recreation center and shoot a little pool," said Huggins, now a Forsyth County resident.

Then alarms sounded aboard the ship and the men aboard Huggins' ship were called to man their battle stations, this time not a drill.

"We didn't stop to question it," Huggins said.

He went on to vividly recall the horrific events of that day, when hundreds of Japanese fighter planes launched a vicious attack on the American naval base, killing 2,386 Americans and destroying nearly 20 naval vessels.

The Arizona was one of those ships, its fiery destruction captured in what is an iconic photo from the attack.

While the anniversary is solemnly remembered by many Americans, Huggins recalled the country's reactions firsthand.

"The main thing that it did was unite the entire country," said Huggins, 89. "There was a big isolationist group in this country and some big politicians were leading it."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt "got us into the war and it's a good thing he did," he said.

"Everybody says he had to do it — the world was going down the tubes. Hitler had control of most of Europe and there was nobody else there equipped to fight him. The (British) were going down the tubes until we came to the rescue.

"The Japanese did us a favor and (Europe) a favor, if you can call that a favor."

Nearly four years after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. and its allies defeated Nazi Germany and Japan, ending World War II, the bloodiest conflict in human history.

For the U.S., it started with a surprise attack by Japan.

Before that day 70 years ago, relations had soured between the U.S. and Japan to the extent that war seemed inevitable. But Pearl Harbor seemed an inconvenient target — 4,000 miles separate Hawaii and Japan.

"Most people wanted to know where Pearl Harbor was," said Glen Kyle, who manages the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University. "Most people were in disbelief that it was the Japanese (who attacked).

"We had brought Western technology and culture to them. (The sentiment was) how could they have possibly pulled something like this off that far from home with that kind of precision?" he said.

It became a very real experience for Huggins, whose ship was among the first to counterattack the Japanese.

"As we got under way, all the time bombers were still coming over and coming very close to us," he said. "We and the ships around us shot down three of them and got partial credit for four.

"There were 29 planes shot down that day. The Japanese paid a very cheap price for what they got."

Huggins recalled an occasion at sea when two submarine torpedoes heading toward the St. Louis exploded before they reached the ship.

The ship stayed at sea for three days searching for enemy vessels.

"It was a tense trip," Huggins said. "When we came back into Pearl Harbor on Wednesday, the harbor was a ghost town. There still was some smoldering going on, where the ships were burning."

He went on to serve throughout World War II, including the Pacific Theater, where the Japanese were defeated in 1945.

But unlike the day that sparked the war, the outcome was never a shock to Huggins.

"We had the best people, we had the best ships — they had some great ships, but after (the Battle of) Midway, they didn't have any (aircraft) carriers left, hardly," he said.

For veterans such Dave Dellinger, who served in Vietnam and is commander of the American Legion Post 7 in Gainesville, remembering the Pearl Harbor anniversary is significant.

"It changed a lot of people's attitudes," he said. "And for those who were there, it is something they'll never forget."

Haines Hill, a North Hall resident who served in Vietnam, was 7 years old when he heard about Pearl Harbor.

He had been visiting his grandfather at his South Georgia farm.

"It was probably 6 p.m. when we arrived back in Thomaston and people told us about it," Hill said. "As a young kid, I was worried about what was going to happen."

In adulthood, he has visited Pearl Harbor three times.

"It's one of those things the generation today needs to read about, hear about and see about, and not let it be forgotten," Hill said.

The terrorist attacks on 9/11, killing nearly 3,000 people, refreshed memories of Pearl Harbor, and comparisons have been drawn between the two tragic days.

"There was a lot more sacrifice that people had to put up with (during World War II), but 9/11 did bring out the patriotism that had been missing from the country for a long, long time," Dellinger said.

Huggins is a bit disenchanted about the current state of America.

"It seems to be falling apart now, but I have confidence in it, that it's going to come back," he said.

 

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