“Over 2,000 dead as United States enters war” was a headline that appeared after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
This is a story told over and over again, but became a personal tale told to me by a Pearl Harbor survivor, Irving “Melvin” Skhal.
“Mel,” as he was known to his shipmates and friends, was aboard the USS Downes #375 while in dry-docks next to the Cassin, another destroyer tied up along side, when it was struck by two bombs at 9:06 a.m. that fateful morning.
He was going about his duty as a deck hand when the first wave of bombers and fighter planes began to unload their destructive force upon his ship and many others anchored in the bay, such as the California, a battleship, her sister ships the Maryland and Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Utah, USS Helena, a light cruiser, and the Navy’s flagship, The Argonne.
It didn’t take Mel long to figure out they were under attack by enemy planes. He manned an on-board anti-aircraft machine and began firing. It was long after that when the order came down to abandon ship.
As Mel scrambled to save his own life, he helped one of his shipmates to safety, who was struggling in the water burning from oil leaking from sinking ships.
Looking back, Mel was fairly quiet about what took place that day. He lived to be 87 years of age, was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12043 here in Maricopa. He recently passed away. He was given full military honors at the time of his burial.
He, like many others experienced the tragedy of war, saw first hand what mankind has reaped upon each other. As a fellow veteran of foreign war, I extend my sincere thanks to all of the men and women who have courageously defended this country and continue to defend America so that we may enjoy our freedom. I salute you!
Bud Ryan is a Korean War veteran and commander of Maricopa’s VFW Post 12043.
Submitted and file photos