Memorial Day parade
When: 10 a.m. today
Where: Green Street from First Baptist Church to Spring Street, Gainesville
Gainesville’s Mack Abbott witnessed a history-changing event as it flashed by the window of his Marine Corps barracks on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
“There was this plane coming out of a bank and I could see two men in there that looked like they were laughing at us,” he said. “Then, I saw it was a Japanese plane. I could tell by the red ball on the wing.”
Abbott, honorary grand marshal at this morning’s Memorial Day parade in Gainesville, recalls vividly the Japanese attack that sparked U.S. involvement in World War II.
“I had decided to get up early and take flying lessons over at the civilian air field,” said the 87-year-old Abbott, who had been in the Marines seven months at the time.
“I got back to my room and ... was shooting the breeze with two other guys when all of a sudden, I heard an explosion and looked out the window, which faced the shipyard.”
As the Japanese Zeros zoomed past, Abbott bolted from the room and headed to the base armory.
Abbott, a private first class, met up with a corporal who told him, “You have to have a requisition to get ammunition.”
A sergeant overheard the private’s request and ordered the corporal to hand over ammo and further told him, “We’ll go in the back and uncrate some more,” Abbott said.
The sergeant then turned to Abbott and said, “You get out there and start firing at those guys.”
He went to a parade field and took aim as the invading aircraft flew overhead.
“There was no one else there but me at the time and I started firing as (the planes flew) over. They weren’t higher than this first story here,” Abbott said during an interview at his home at Smoky Springs Retirement Center in Gainesville.
Abbott, whose wartime adventures are chronicled in a book, “First and Last Shots Fired in World War II,” recalls firing a M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle at the Japanese pilots.
“I sat down in a kneeling position so I could pivot,” he said.
Others joined Abbott in shooting at the planes.
“The Navy gave us credit for shooting down three of the 29 planes shot down that day,” he said.
Abbott and another Marine were ordered to go to Naval docks where ships that had been ripped apart by bombs had left sailors in the water.
“They needed us to help those men who were swimming back from ships and get them to a nearby hospital,” he said.
“The hospital got full, so (we were told) to put them in the grass in front of the hospital. They had one nurse out there checking them to see which one would be next to go in.”
After the surprise attack, which killed 2,386 military personnel and civilians, Abbott would go on to serve in the South Pacific, including at Guadalcanal and the invasion of Saipan.
He was on Tinian, an island neighboring Saipan, when the U.S. flew from there to drop atomic bombs on Japan, resulting in Japanese surrender.
While at Tinian, Abbott shot a Japanese soldier who had fired on him first in what Abbott’s commander officer called “the last shot fired” in the war.
After the war, Abbott went on to the University of Houston and later worked for Grinnell, a company that made pipe fittings, valves and other products.
He moved to Gainesville 12 years ago, first living just off Lake Lanier.
Since his arrival, Abbott frequently has gotten offers to speak about his wartime experiences — and he relishes the appearances.
“I like to talk to any group that wants me,” he said.
Today, he’ll be riding in front of the Paul E. Bolding American Legion Post 7’s eighth annual Memorial Day Parade as it winds down Green Street and turns on E.E. Butler Parkway, ending at Spring Street.
He’ll sit aboard a horse-drawn Wells Fargo stagecoach.
Other World War II veterans will be accompanying Abbott, also as grand marshals in the parade meant to spotlight that era in U.S. history.
As for his role in Pearl Harbor, an event that has had a lasting effect on America, he recalls his own Marine training.
“If you see something wrong, act immediately and don’t ask yourself why,” he said.