Archive for Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Pearl Harbor vets have unique perspective on war, terrorism

Date which will live in infamy’ recalled

December 7, 2005


The message was simple and direct. "Attack on Pearl Harbor. This is no drill."

Lawrence resident John "Buck" Newsom still has a copy of the dispatch sent from the U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters in Honolulu to the USS Hopkins, an old World War I-era destroyer he was stationed on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

Newsom's ship was about 700 miles away when the Japanese launched the sneak attack that brought the U.S. into World War II. His ship arrived at Pearl Harbor two days later on Dec. 9. He still remembers the horrific sights that greeted him.

"There were still ships burning. Bodies were still in the water. Obviously it was quite a shock," Newsom said, as he recalled that day 64 years ago. "It was two days later and it was still a mess."

When Newsom, now 86, saw the damage that bombs and torpedoes had done to "Battleship Row," he thought of former classmates from the U.S. Naval Academy he knew were on some of those ships.

One of the classmates was Vincent Muirhead.

Muirhead, 86, who also lives in Lawrence, was on the battleship USS Maryland when the attack began. He and a roommate were in their stateroom preparing to go to breakfast when the "general quarters" alarm sounded, alerting ship crews to go to their battle stations.

"We looked out our porthole and there was a Japanese plane flying by. You couldn't miss it," Muirhead said during an interview Tuesday.

Muirhead's ship was hit by bombs and took casualties, but it did not sink and he was not hurt. Both Muirhead and Newsom completed their Naval careers, at one point becoming aviators. Newsom kept a diary during the war, which he still has today.

Today the United States is involved in another war, this time against terrorism. Military forces have been fighting, first in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003. The parallels of how the United States became involved after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are not lost on Newsom and Muirhead.

On Sept. 11 the shock was similar to what was experienced at Pearl Harbor, but it was also different, Newsom said.

"We heard about Pearl Harbor and we were two days away from it," he said. "We had a while for it to sink in before we actually saw it, while on Sept. 11 you sat right there and watched television as it happened."

Muirhead noted other differences between Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11.

"In one sense it was sneaky but not in another," he said. "(Pearl Harbor) wasn't against civilians. It was against the military."

While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are as "different as night and day" because of the advances in war-fighting technologies, there also are still some similarities, Newsom said.

"Instead of Kamikaze suicide planes you've got suicide terrorists in cars and buses," he said. "Instead of hand-to-hand combat in the jungles of Guadalcanal or some hamlet in France, you're doing it in Baghdad. The thing about it, either way, war is hell. People get killed."

Muirhead retired from the Navy in 1961 as a commander. He then taught at the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Kansas University before retiring in 1989 as department chairman. He said he doesn't think much about Pearl Harbor now.

"My wife's birthday is the next day (Dec. 8) and I think about it," he said.

Newsom still gives talks about the war to local community groups and at KU. After the war, he went on to serve as commander of the Naval ROTC program at KU in the late 1950s. He worked for several years with Centron Productions, becoming vice president of the industrial film-making company.


ImperatorTerrae 12 years, 4 months ago

The ship exploding in the pictures is the USS Arizona, a battleship, not the USS Shaw, a destroyer.

The Shaw was a attacked while she was drydocked with the USS Cassin and the USS Pennsyvania.

Liberty 12 years, 4 months ago

The Hawiian newspaper called HILO Tribune Herald printed an article that the Japaneese may strike soon. To see the article, go to

If a newspaper knew this, you have to know that the US government knew this too and was not suprised by the attack, knowing that it would so anger the people of this country (like 9-11 towers) that they would go to war.

Ragingbear 12 years, 4 months ago

My grandmother won't talk about the day they bombed Pearl Harbor. It was her birthday, and she will never forgive the Japanese for that.

From what few people who are still alive, and functional enough to remember it, I have gathered that it was the 9/11 of it's day. It was a day when they realized that thier home is just as open to attack as any place. They were no longer secure behind the invisible border walls of our country. For that, a great price was paid. Every generation eventually gets a wake up call, and each time it is a sad day for all of us.

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