Oahu, Hawaii is known for their palm trees, beaches and family-centered culture.
On this day, 75 years ago, those things were destroyed by bombs and bullets.
Many are not around today to share how the pristine beaches of Oahu were clouded with smoke and chaos and how they were forced to put their military training into action.
The families and friends of the legendary Pearl Harbor survivors have made it their duty to keep the infamous day in the spotlight.
Adrian Earl Gurganus and James Donald Gurganus
Cousins Adrian and James Gurganus are special editions to Onslow County’s veteran legacy.
The men joined the military on the same day, were assigned to the USS Reid where they served as gunner’s mates in the Navy, both went down with the ship when it sunk, and came home together after nearly four years of constant battle.
The cousins are both Pearl Harbor survivors.
Their daughters, Peggy Shepard and Mary Ann Gurganus, are honored to know the legacy their fathers were a part of.
With both of their fathers since passed, they feel it is their duty to carry their fathers’ history and stories.
“It is important, especially for the younger generations, to remember Pearl Harbor,” Shepard said. “It is a fading thing. They need to know the sacrifice and what happened there.”
It is a difficult task, they said, sharing stories of that faithful day because the war was not how they remember their fathers.
“They wanted us taken care of and that is what they did,” Gurganus said of her father’s quietness about the war. “He probably kept a lot inside.”
He came home and went right back to work, she said.
“They wanted to build a new life and not remember all of that,” Shepard said.
It wasn’t until late in their lives that either man started to share his experiences, including the day their boat was sunk, in December 1944.
“My dad never mentioned the war,” Shepard said. “Half of their buddies were killed. I can only imagine what they saw.”
Their ship was in the harbor nearly completely dismantled, being repaired, Shepard said, when the attack started.
Her dad had planned to take flying lessons and was waiting for a friend on the top side of the ship when the planes showed up.
It became real very quickly how those planes would change history, Shepard said.
“I remember them saying they feared for their life,” Gurganus said.
“Dad always said that morning was nothing compared to the next three years,” Shepard said.
The USS Reid would spend the next nearly four years engaged in battles such as the Battle of Midway and efforts off the coast of New Guinea and, its last efforts, at Leyte.
During its engagement at Leyte the USS Reid was sunk as a result of an aerial bombardment, one plane crashing into the ship.
The men would, decades later, share what it was like to be in the waters, hugging themselves trying to protect themselves from the concussive impact of enemy fire and bombs.
“It was only in his last three or four years when we started to hear more stories,” Shepard said. “They were always different stories. I felt it was important for him for somebody to know, and important that people remember. It is so important to me because it is important to him.”
The men were proud of their time in the Navy, Gurganus said, each wearing Pearl Harbor and World War II veteran hats, James also wearing a belt buckle.
“I hope dad knows how proud of him we are,” Shepard said. “I’ve tried to tell him. We just didn’t talk about this for so long.”
Thomas Willard Mansfield
Dottie Montgomery of Hampstead, was only six when her dad, Thomas Willard Mansfield passed away in 1960.
She said she didn’t really know her father, but knows what an honor it is to know he was also a Pearl Harbor survivor.
Montgomery has a collection of military memorabilia that belonged to her father, who served in the Army, including a proclamation of when he crossed the equator aboard the USS Neptune, Feb. 4, 1942.
Mansfield was honored at his funeral with at folded military flag, Montgomery said.
“Pearl Harbor is something that is a legacy,” Montgomery said. “It is something that is hard to forget. It is an honor to know my father served our county and what that means for our freedom.”