See the stark differences between Pearl Harbor in 1941 and today. USA TODAY
CAMARILLO, Calif. — It was 75 years ago Wednesday that Oxnard resident Edward Waszkiewicz, then a 20-year-old fireman with the Navy, witnessed what he said sounded like the “end of the world coming.”
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Waszkiewicz looked up and saw three planes swooping down onto what was known as “Battleship Row,” a group of eight U.S. battleships in port at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, where Waszkiewicz was stationed.
“Then all hell broke loose,” Waszkiewicz said, recalling the moment the bombs dropped. “That’s when the war really started.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” The attack on Pearl Harbor led to the U.S. involvement in World War II.
Sitting inside his home today where he lives with a caregiver, Waszkiewicz, now 95 years old, recalled some of the details of his time in the Navy.
Waszkiewicz, born in 1921, wanted to join the military at age 17 but had to wait until 1939 when he turned 18.
Joining the Navy was a chance to see the world, but it was also a way to help his Polish immigrant parents, who owned a farm in Michigan but were having financial difficulties.
His first assignment was aboard the carrier USS Enterprise. He eventually was assigned to Pearl Harbor to work with the firefighting group.
On the morning of Dec. 7, Waszkiewicz was on duty, driving a firetruck to the dock where the oil tanker USS Neosho was pumping gasoline and other fuel into Ford Island fuel tanks.
He looked up to see three planes swooping down on the southern side of the island. From where he was standing, he first thought they were U.S. planes — until they started dropping bombs.
The island shook when the first bomb hit. Another plane started machine-gunning the dock. When the battleship USS Arizona was hit, about 200 yards away, Waszkiewicz had a full view.
“The explosion was so violent," he recalled. "I thought the end of the world was coming. Pieces of the ship fell everywhere.”
Waszkiewicz had jumped into the water to avoid being hit by the second plane’s machine gun. He ended up getting back on the dock, got back into his truck and drove back to the firehouse. He went out again with the fire crew and began fighting the fires ignited by explosives.
Waszkiewicz also witnessed the USS Shaw and USS Oklahoma being bombed, and he saw the USS Oklahoma roll over on its side.
“You really didn’t have time to be afraid, but I’m sure the thought ran through my head at the time," he said. "There were quite a few fires that had to be fought, and I was busy doing that.”
After the attack was over, he saw many men severely injured or dead.
Waszkiewicz stayed in Hawaii another five or six months. He continued with his firefighting training and retired from the Navy as a chief warrant officer in 1962.
His story is outlined in the book Day of Infamy by Walter Lord. His children also interviewed him for a video that is posted on YouTube.
Waszkiewicz was also featured in a Feb. 28, 1968, Oxnard Press Courier story about the time he ended up sharing a foxhole with his son Marc during the Vietnam War when he was studying jet fighters for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corp.
Waszkiewicz said it’s hard to believe that 75 years have passed since the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the 50th anniversary, he traveled back to Pearl Harbor with his family to reflect and pay his respects, but he said he had no special plans this year.
His daughter, Charmy Harker, says her dad is a hero to all five of his children. He was married to their mother, Jackie, for almost 60 years. She died four years ago.
She said her father is still pretty much in good health, though he is showing some signs of confusion.
“There are not many survivors left from Pearl Harbor, and we just want him to know that we haven’t forgotten all that he has done,” said Harker. “We’re all very proud of him and his service.”