'What a Nightmare': A Sailor's Account of Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath

Smoke rises from the USS Arizona as it sinks during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
In this Dec. 7, 1941, file photo, smoke rises from the battleship USS Arizona as it sinks during a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP File Photo)

My father's Pearl Harbor diary

"Planes were all around the bay for every ship was firing by now. What a nightmare ..."

Contributed by Ronald Brabbin

This is a transcript of Chief Henry Clyde Daniels

US Navy of the Destroyer USS Drayton DD366

A handwritten diary

Dec. 7, 1941, to May 1942

Pearl Harbor

December 7th Sunday 1941

Left Honolulu about 7 o'clock to come back to the ship for a clean uniform.  On the way back, had a feeling something was wrong or rather that something was going to happen. Was waiting for a ships boat at the boat landing in the navy yard when a big explosion was heard in the vicinity of Hickam airfield. 

Everyone was saying, what the hell was that? Noticed a lot of airplanes coming over, but was used to seeing them.  Then 4 planes flying about 150 ft in the air came directly over us at the landing.  Each plane had a torpedo in the rack underneath.  As they passed, someone yelled, "Hey look at the big red ball painted on the tail of the planes."

Just about then they let go at the Battleships, point blank, about 2 minutes later we could see the torpedoes exploding in the ships.  Everyone yelled about the same time, "Japs!"  Right after that 10 more planes came in and each let go a torpedo at the battleships, the Oklahoma, California, West Virginia, Nevada and Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Tennessee.

By this time the guns were opening all around the fleet.  Jap planes were everywhere. Two planes dove at us on the landing and machine-gunned us, there was about 150 men waiting for boats. Everyone started running and ducking for cover, about 10 were hit. 

Bombs were being dropped all around the harbor and you could see planes dropping and crashing, some of the bastards diving right down on the ships, making sure they hit them and blowing themselves up. Machine guns were being put up all around by Marines and everyone was grabbing rifles that were being handed out and firing at the planes. 

There were some motorboats at the landing and we grabbed off some crews and started toward the battleships that were on fire to pick up men that were swimming in the harbor. Just as we got near to them, the Oklahoma started turning over and laid over on her side. Men were scrambling all over her side that was out of the water. 

We picked up a boatload and rushed them to the nearest dock at the air station. Oil was 2 inches thick on the harbor by then and the men could hardly swim in it at all. Metal and debris [were] flying everywhere. We picked up more men when the Arizona's magazine blew up; everyone in the boat was stunned as we were about 150 yards from her.

 You could see flames shooting up from her 250 feet in the air and when she blew up, bodies were hurled in the air like bits of paper; some of them landed near us or rather pieces of them. We continued picking up men, moving bodies that were floating we left for later.

Planes were all around the bay for every ship was firing by now. What a nightmare. We continued picking up men until 9 o'clock Sunday night. Five battleships still burning, everyone was fighting fire and the oil in the harbor had caught afire. My ship and the division had fought there [sic] way out of the harbor, so went aboard the USS Whitney to stay. Got something to eat then went with the fire and rescue party's, stay up all night as did everyone else who was alive.

Monday, December 8th, 1941

Fires still burning on the ships that were bombed and torpedoed. USS Utah and Oklahoma lying over on their sides. Cutting torches are being used to cut holes in the sides to get men still alive out, after they turned over.  Everyone still stunned over the attack. Went to the Navy yard. Hundreds of men with no ships wandering. Dazed clothes were being issued out everywhere. Navy hospital filled up. Trucks, carts anything used to haul men to the hospitals in town.

Hundreds of dead laying out on the grass around the navy yard. Two destroyers in dry dock burned up and turned over on their sides from bombs. USS Shaw in the floating dry dock blown in half. Boats still picking up bodies from the harbor. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon went back to the Whitney and fell asleep. Woke up about 2 o'clock in the morning and went with a gang to help fight fires on the battleships and relieve some men.

Tuesday, December 9th

Fought fires until about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. We were relieved to eat and went over to the navy yard where they were feeding us. About 150 women coming thru the yard headed for the hospital to act as nurses and help out. Found out they were women from the sporting houses over in Honolulu. Went back to USS Whitney and cleaned up and bummed some clean clothes. Slept a couple hours then went on S.P. duty over in the yard.

Wednesday, December 10th

My ship came back in port and pulled up to the oil docks to fuel. Went aboard, was glad to get aboard, we fueled in about 2 hours, then shoved out with rest of the division.  Headed to join the Lexington and a task force.  As we went out of the harbor, everyone had a lump in their throat as we gazed at the wrecks that was once the pride of our fleet, now just their turrets and mast sticking up out of the water.  We lost Nevada, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona, California and Utah and Ogalala, Cassin, Shaw, Downes (three destroyers). Headed for task for that is searching for the Japs that are left.

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In this Dec. 7, 1941, file photo, a small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP Photo)

Dec. 11th

Headed for task force, everyone hoping we run across some Jap ships.

Dec. 12th

Headed for task force.

Dec. 13th

Planes swooped down on us this morning, but we had spotted them and sent out our recognition signal; they were planes from the Lexington. About 4 o'clock joined up with task force.

Dec. 14th

Cruising with task force.

Dec. 15th

Force getting low on oil and it is too rough for oiling at sea, so we get orders to return to Pearl Harbor.

Dec. 16th

Heading for Pearl Harbor.

Dec. 17th

Heading for Pearl Harbor.

Dec. 18th

Arrived at Pearl Harbor this morning, fueling ship, and then we went alongside repair ship Dobbin.

Dec. 19th

Loading up with more ammunition and getting ship ready for war.

Dec. 20th

Doing misc. jobs about the ship and loading.

Dec. 21st 

Just heard today that we are going to convoy some ships to Palmyra Island and Christmas Island.

Dec. 22nd

Carried out routine ships work and finished about everything there was for stripping ship for action.

Xmas is near, but there is no Xmas spirit in the fleet.  Everyone just wants a crack at the yellow bastards that attacked us. We will get it.

Dec. 23rd

Left Pearl Harbor with 4 ships in convoy for Christmas Island and Palmyra Island.

Dec. 24th

Contacted Submarine on sound gear and convoy scattered. We attacked with 600 lb. Depth charges, dropped 5 of them. Submarine surfaced bow up at an angle of about 45 degrees and poised this way for about a minute, no 1 gun and no 3 put about 4 shots apiece in it.  She sank with a big hissing noise. So long you yellow bastards. Repaying debt for Pearl Harbor. Picked up convoy and proceeded on our course.

Dec. 25th

Xmas and had a nice dinner with all the fixings; nothing happened today, just routine ship work.

Dec. 26th

Everything peaceful, proceeding on our course.

Dec. 27th

Proceeding on our course.

Dec. 28th

Proceeding on our course.

Dec. 29th

Proceeding on our course.

Dec. 30th

Proceeding on our course.

Dec. 31st 

Proceeding on our course.

January 1st

1942 New years, but we don't realize it, just another day.

January 2nd

Arrived at Christmas Island about 4 o'clock, started patrolling outside the harbor while ships were being unloaded.

January 3rd

Soldiers brought us out a boatload of coconuts and all hands were drinking the milk. Report came in that a Jap aircraft carrier was attacking Jarvis Island. All hands put on alert.

January 4th

Convoy ships finished unloading and we left Christmas Island for Palmyra.

January 5th

Picked up other ships off Palmyra and proceeded to Honolulu.

American ships burn during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
In this Dec. 7, 1941, file photo, American ships burn during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP Photo)

January 6th

Proceeding to Honolulu.

January 7th

Proceeding to Honolulu, everything peaceful.

January 8th

Just before daylight, lookout reported torpedo wake across our bow. We were using listening device, sound operator switched to sound and picked up submarine about 2,000 yards off port bow; another torpedo missed our stern about 40 yards. Director picked up periscope about 1,500 yards to port; Guns 4 and 1 opened up on it. 

Captain swung the ship and headed full speed for it.  Convoy got signal and had scattered. As we were heading for the sub, she submerged her scope and as we passed over her let go 3,600 lb. Depth charges and 2 from the Y gun. Circled back and there was lots of oil and wreckage on the spot where we let go. Captain congratulated all hands on good work.  Some more yellow bastards for Pearl Harbor. Assembled convoy and proceeded toward Honolulu. Convoy signaled congratulations.

January 9th

Sighted two patrol bombers from Pearl Harbor, gave them recognition signal.  About 11 am dropped convoy at Honolulu and proceeded to entrance of Pearl Harbor.  Received a well done from C in C ...

January 10th

In the navy yard Pearl Harbor.

January 11th

Taking on stores and doing minor repairs to ship.

January 12th

Left Pearl Harbor with task force, consisting of 2 aircraft carriers, 5 heavy cruisers, 11 destroyers and 2 fast fleet oil tankers. Captain told us this afternoon we are going to attack the Marshal [sic] Islands.

January 13th

Proceeding with task force.

January 14th

Proceeding with task force. Planes from carriers are patrolling away ahead of us, and practicing dive-bombing on us.

January 15th

Crossed equator, no celebration.

January 16th

All destroyers in task force fueling at sea; we finished about sunset.

January 17th

Proceeding with task force.

January 18th

Proceeding with task force.

January 19th

Proceeding with task force.

January 20th

Captain called all chiefs into his cabin and explained to us what we were going to do in the attack, and that the task was receiving information from our submarines operating around the Marshal [sic] Islands every 3 hours as to the situation.

January 21st

Received orders from task force commander for Drayton, Clark and Lamson to proceed to Samoa and guard outside harbor for convoy that was heading for there. With marines and supplies, we are making 32 knots.

January 22nd

Arrived at Pago Pago [American] Samoa, went inside to fuel ship. Had 2 hrs. liberty; got some cold beer at the naval station. Left the harbor about 6 p.m. and patrolled outside during the night, sounding for subs.

January 23rd

Patrolling outside Pago Pago.

January 24th

Patrolling outside Pago Pago.

January 25th

About 10 am, sighted convoy, three large Matson liners, the Lurline, Matsonia and the Monterey and 3 large navy supply ships; they were loaded with 4,000 marines, tanks and guns and ammunition and planes.

January 26th

Left Pago Pago Samoa to join up with task force.

January 27th

Proceeding at 25 knots.

January 28th

About 9 o'clock sighted 3 planes, got ready for action, sent recognition signal with the signal light and planes answered.  They were from our carriers.  About 2 o'clock sighted our task force.  Fell in position with them.

January 29th

All destroyers fueling at sea from tankers.

January 30th

Proceeding toward Marshall Islands.

January 31st

Nearing [Marshall Islands]. Captain called all hands to quarters and told us we will go into action tomorrow morning. All kind of remarks from crew was heard during the day about what we were going to do with the Japs.

February 1st

General quarters sounded about 3 o'clock, all hands taking showers and putting on clean clothes. 4 o'clock all hands at their battle stations. Day is just breaking, planes taking off from carriers. Can make out [Jaluit] Island, the Japs main base in the Marshalls. We can hear loud explosions; our planes are bombing all ready. The heavy cruisers are firing also. 

Our guns will not range that far, we are standing by for a torpedo attack and protecting the carriers. Can see all kinds blazes from fires on the beach. The carriers are making about 27 knots now on their courses. Planes are landing and loading up more bombs and taking off again.  We leave the carrier and proceed at 35 knots; a Jap carrier is leaving the entrance to the harbor.

There are 5 of us destroyers making the attack. We can see our planes engaged in fights with the Jap planes. We get in range, and all make a fast turn and let go one torpedo apiece. About 6 Jap planes are diving at us, but our guns are throwing them off. Some of our fighter planes came in and battling them. 

When the bombs they drop go off, you can feel the concussion, believe me. Our torpedoes hit, boy you can see the explosions and the Jap carrier is laying over on her side. We fall back to the carriers and keep up our aircraft barrage.

We can pick out the Jap planes easy enough. We can see planes falling in the water. Can't see what damage the planes are doing at the base in the harbor, but by the smoke and explosions, they are doing plenty. One big Jap 4 motor job badly hit tried to crash on the carriers' deck, but just hit the edge and burst into flames. Can see them fighting the fire. About 11 a.m. Cease firing went and all the ships proceeding away at full speed.  Our planes were landing as we are going away.

February 4th

Proceeding to Samoa. Flags were flown at half-mast for the dead.

February 5th

Arrived at Samoa.

February 6th

At Samoa.

February 7th

Carriers and cruisers left here for Pearl Harbor.

February 8th

At Samoa.

February 9th

Left Samoa to join another task force.

February 10th

Proceeding to meet task force.

February 11th

Met up with task force consisting of aircraft carrier Lexington, 4 cruisers, an oil tanker and 8 destroyers.

February 12th

Crossed International Date Line, gained a day, so today is Friday the 13th.

February 13th

Near the Solomon Islands.

February 14th

Fueling at sea.  Received word we will escort the oil tanker Neosho. Back to Pearl Harbor when she is through fueling the force.

February 15th

Crossed International Date Line about 2 o'clock this morning so we had two Sundays. Cruising toward Honolulu with Neosho.

February 16th

Proceeding to Pearl Harbor with Neosho.

February 17th

Proceeding to Pearl Harbor with Neosho.

February 18th

Proceeding to Pearl Harbor with Neosho, about 10 o'clock this sighted a raft with a white flag flying, investigated it and no one aboard.

February 19th

Proceeding to Pearl Harbor with Neosho.

February 20th

Crossed the equator this morning about 11 am. No celebration. Still on course for Pearl Harbor.

February 21st

Still on course for Pearl Harbor.

February 22nd

Still on course for Pearl Harbor.

February 23rd

Still on course for Pearl Harbor.

February 24th

Still on course for Pearl Harbor.

February 25th

Still on course for Pearl Harbor. About 10 a.m. sighted a patrol plane from Pearl Harbor.

February 26th

Still on course for Pearl Harbor.

February 27th

Arrived at Pearl Harbor.  Went alongside Whitney.

February 28th

Notified that I am being transferred tomorrow to USS Whitney for further assignment somewhere.

March 1st

Left the old Drayton and reported aboard Whitney, kind of hated to leave her after being aboard for over 5 years.

March 2nd

Aboard the USS Whitney just hanging around.

March 3rd

Went ashore as beer was allowed to be sold again and lifted a few, had a good liberty.

March 4th

Aboard the USS Whitney waiting, might be here for over a month.

March 5th

Aboard the Whitney. Went ashore again and lifted a few and see who I could see.

March 6th

Transferred to US Rec. ship Pearl Harbor for further assignment, don't know where.

March 7th-Thru 15th

Still at receiving ship, life of Riley.  (Last entry)

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