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Pearl Harbor perspectives from Lake County veterans

Crumpled topping battleship Arizonpours black clouds smoke inair after surprise Japanese attack Pearl Harbor Dec.7.

Crumpled and topping, the battleship Arizona pours black clouds of smoke into the air after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec.7.

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Updated: January 8, 2014 6:10AM



On Dec. 7, 1941, they were men in their early 20s who had grown up during the Great Depression and joined the Navy from places like Charleston, W. Va., and Casey, Iowa.

Seventy-two years later, they are living the life of retired gentlemen in and around Lake County, and their memories of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are razor-sharp — from the routine things they were doing at sunrise to the historic events they witnessed as the clock struck 8 a.m.

Today, we offer a closer look at the experiences shared at this week’s Union League Club of Chicago luncheon honoring Dr. James “Lyle” Hancock of Wheeling, John Terrell of Lake Forest and Joseph Triolo of Waukegan:

Hancock: “I was detailed at the Navy Yard dispensary at that time, and we had pretty good duty because we had the weekend off ... They just opened up the gates — it was wide open. All we were interested in was (weekend) liberty.

“There was absolutely no protection, because most of the personnel knew nothing about Japan. We weren’t acquainted with it — then all of a sudden, here we are with bombs dropping.”

Terrell: “I was quartered in a receiving station, which overlooked Battleship Row and Naval Air Station Ford Island. I saw the devastation being wrecked on those facilities. Prior to the second wave, I was put on a work detail to go aboard the USS Pennsylvania and two destroyers that were put in drydock at the time. All three ships were damaged.”

Triolo: “I was on the (USS) Tangier. I was on a 50-caliber machine gun, water-cooled. When I got to my gun station, the ammunition boxes were closed. I couldn’t open ’em. So the gunner’s mate finally came up, and I says, ‘You gotta get the keys to these ready boxes,’ so he got the keys and he opened them up.

“I got the machine gun going. I was firing on the plane that sunk the Utah. I could see that pilot in the cockpit very plainly. And I observed the roll of the Utah as the ship rolled over — it almost rolled over instantly. As it rolled over, those men that got out of the hull, they followed the turn of the ship until they went into the water, then they swam ashore.”

Hancock: “I thought I’d better get up to the dispensary, because that was my battle station whenever they had a drill ... I started running about a quarter mile up through the Navy Yard and through the Naval housing, and as I came up, one of my buddies, he said, ‘Slow down — what goes up must come down.’

“When I got into the dispensary, it was utter chaos. They were bringing them in by the truckloads with personnel that had either jumped off their ships or been blown off, and they started to treat them.”

Triolo: “Just think — if we’d have all been at our gun stations, it would have been a different story, because they lost seven planes going in, and they lost 20-some planes on the second wave ... I know there’s a lot of second-guessing, but that’s exactly the way I feel about what happened a Pearl Harbor — a lot of people were asleep that should have been more alert.”

Hancock: “That night, they had painted over all the windows and doors and any lights. I never knew it could get so black at night as it did that one. The only place to go was outside your door. You couldn’t go anywhere away from the building, because if you did, the Marines would shoot you. They would shoot anything that moved.”

All three men not only stayed out of harm’s way that night but went on to live into their 90s. An observation by Triolo summed up the survivor’s instinct that made a difference both on Dec. 7 and in the years that followed:

“Their objective was to demolish the fleet and have this country sue for peace,” he said. “Of course, happily, that didn’t happen.”



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