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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
by Dick Johnson

Pearl Harbor survivors speak
so that others will remember

MASON CITY — Harlan SEARLE almost drowned aboard the USS California when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Navy gunner's mate from Mason City was trapped in rising water in a sealed-off room when an unknown angel broke in and pulled him to safety. His brother, Ervin*, was among nearly 100 U.S. sailors who died on the big ship.

Harlan SEARLE kept that horror to himself for years.

"The interesting thing about Dad is that he never once mentioned Pearl Harbor or what happened to his brother," said his daughter, Pat MASTERS of Mason City. "He did not mention it to us until after he retired in 1990."

Finally SEARLE opened up, as other Pearl Harbor survivors have to spouses, children and grandchildren.

"You've just got a feeling you should tell everybody what's going on," the 83-year-old said. "You want to keep the history going. People now, they almost forget about Dec. 7. It shouldn't be forgotten about, that’s for sure."

That dark day 64 years ago still impacts those closest to the survivors.

Tom O'BRIEN joined the Marines like his father, Jim O'BRIEN of Mason City. While stationed on Oahu, he visited the area where Jim, who had just turned 20, helped shoot down three Japanese bombers on Dec. 7.

Jan WEAVER'S daughter, Michelle EVANS, spent eight years in the Navy — following in the footsteps of her late grandfather, Robert LEAMAN of Mason City.

LEAMAN and Maurice KLECKNER of St. Ansgar were aboard the light cruiser USS Helena CL-50 in Pearl Harbor. When the ship was hit, LEAMAN was pulled from the water by his twin brother, Richard, and another soldier.

"I was proud of him, just because he was my dad — period," said WEAVER, also of Mason City. "I wouldn't have wanted any other one. He was always good to his grandkids, and he was good to everybody. He was a good person."

SEARLE and his fellow soldiers just wanted to forget the terrible war.

At Pearl Harbor, where the war in the Pacific started, nearly 2,400 U.S. forces died.

"We wanted to come back and be normal people again and forget the service, live your life like everybody else did," SEARLE said. "You never forget about it. I'm not as emotional as I used to be. You figure, what's happened has happened."

Jim O'BRIEN has discussed Pearl Harbor with his sons, Tom and Gene, and has participated in forums to reach young people in regard to Pearl Harbor and World War II.

"It was all I heard about, growing up," said Tom O'BRIEN, 58, a financial adviser in Des Moines. "It's a little bit surreal. I think it just means more to me because my father was there and experienced the whole thing.

"I don't know how common it is," he added, "but my father was always my hero. Growing up wasn't always easy. I joined the Marine Corps to prove myself to my father and myself. And it was a great experience for me."

It's hard for a someone two generations removed to imagine what U.S. personnel endured at Pearl Harbor, said Pat MASTERS' son, Jim DeLUNG.

But it's personal when one of the biggest stories of the 20th century involves your grandfather.

"I'm very proud of him," said DeLUNG, 23, a graduate assistant at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss. "I've always been close to my grandpa. Growing up in Mason City, he was always there. It's something I took for granted a little. As you get older, you start to understand how they think. It's something that I'll always think of, whenever I think of my grandpa."

MASTERS likes the idea of putting her dad's amazing story on paper.

"Of course, it brings tears to my eyes," she said. "I'm very proud of him. I'm very proud of his generation. Because of his experiences, I have a whole new respect for veterans."

NOTE: Daniel S. "Dan" KELLEY proudly served in the United States Navy for over 20 years, specializing in Naval Communications. Daniel was aboard the USS Curtiss during the Pearl Harbor attack. He was also involved in Guadalcanal, the formal surrender of Japan at the end of World War II, and special assignments in China. Daniel was offered Junior Commissioned Officer, but respectfully chose to remain a Senior Serviceman. Daniel had a great love for the Navy and his country. Daniel was a member of the Fleet Reserve Association and a former Secretary for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.


Memorial service scheduled this morning

DES MOINES — A memorial service hosted by the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will be held at 11:45 this morning at the Iowa State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust.

Jim O'BRIEN of Mason City, president of the Iowa chapter of the Survivors Association, will moderate the meeting. Gov. Tom VILSACK, Des Moines Mayor Franklin COWNIE and National Guard Adjutant General Ron DARDIS are expected to attend.

About 5,800 Pearl Harbor survivors are still living, according to Julius A. FINNERN of Menomonie Falls, Wis., former national secretary of the Survivors Association. About 82 of them live in Iowa.

For information on the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, see Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

* Gunner's Mate 3C Erwin Leroy SEARLE, U.S. Navy, aboard USS California and K.I.A. December 7th, 1941.

NOTE: USS California (BB-44), was hit forward and aft by two Japanese torpedoes during the earliest moments of the Pearl Harbor raid. She was hit later by a bomb and another near-miss which caused additional flooding. A large mass of burning oil which was drifting down "Battleship Row" threatened to set her afire. She was ordered abandoned. When crewmen returned on board later, it was impossible to control the flooding. Despite valiant efforts and assistance from tugs and other ships, she slowly settled to the bottom of Pearl Harbor, coming to rest on December 10th. She was raised in March of 1942. It took over two years to repair and modernize her. She returned to the Pacific in June of 1945, in time to be a part of the final stages of the Okinawa campaign. She was formally decommissioned in February of 1947 and sold for scrap in July of 1959. Nearly a hundred of her officers and men were killed in action during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

USS HELENA (CL-50) was hit by a single torpedo during the Pearl Harbor attack, which flooded an engine room and a boiler room. She was repaired and modified at the Pearl Harbor and Mare Island Navy Yards which lasted through June of 1942. In the summer of 1942, she was sent to the South Pacific where she took active participation in the Guadalcanal Campaign. She rescued survivors of USS Waps (CV-) when the carrier was sunk by an enemy submarine on September 15th. She was engaged in night surface combat and two times shelled Japanese bases on New Georgia and Kolombangara Islands. In the early morning hours of July 6, 1943, Helena took part of a task force engaged in battle with Japanese destroyers in the Battle of Kula Gulf. She was hit by three torpedoes which broke her into three parts. She sunk with the loss of nearly 170 of her crewmen.

USS Curtiss, a year-old seaplane was tied up to mooring bouys at the mouth of Pearl Harbor's Middle Loch. When the Japanese began hitting their targets, her crew immediately went to General Quarters. About forty minutes into the attack, a midge sumbarine fired a torpedo at her, which missed. Less than a half-hour later, an enemy dive bomber, crippled by anti-aircraft gunfire, dove into one of her big topside cranes. The resulting explosion caused some minor damage. A number of Japanese planes began making dive bombing attacks, placing fragments of near misses into her sides. One bomb hit her midship's superstructure, then penetrated down to the front of the hangar where it explodes, rupturing holes in her main and second decks. Fragments from the explosion penetrated into the after engine room, wrecked several shops near the hangar and set off intense fire. The blazes were quickly extinguished. She was completely repaired a little over a month later. Approximately twenty of her men were killed during the Pearl Harbor attack.

USS Curtiss acted as a flagship during the Guadalcanal and Central Somons Campaigns. After the war, she was utilized to support scientific endeavors and amphibious operations. She patroled seaplanes in Japanese waters during the Korean War. She was a part of Operation "Deepfreeze", a long-term project of scientific study of Antartica. She was decommissioned in September of 1957 and sold for scrapping in February of 1972.

Additional Sources:


Transcription and notes by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011


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