Pearl Harbor survivor and US Navy veteran Steve Warren of Rapid City shared his experiences with us on March 14, 2009. Those present also had a chance to meet another Pearl Harbor survivor, US Army veteran Stan Lieberman of Rapid City. Warren is a good friend of WWII Chief Petty Officer George Jones.
Now 87, Warren grew up on a cotton farm in rural Texas and was 20 years old when the early-morning attacks began. This retired CPA has vivid memories of the injured and dying he cared for at Hickam Field. Warren was quick to argue that survivors, though packed with history, should not be labeled “heroes” as such, preferring to reserve that designation for those who officially went well beyond those who were primarily doing their duty.
Warren pointed out that many more sailors would have been killed if the ships had been sunk out at sea rather than in the harbor where rescue was easier. "It was just pure luck that the aircraft carriers were gone at the time of the attack," he said; "Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to retaliate so well in 1942." Warren continued to serve in other war zones throughout the Pacific as the war progressed. Another stroke of luck he related: Some of the ships that were sunk during the attack were later brought to the surface and eventually pressed back into combat. "We couldn't have done this if they'd been sunk in the deep ocean."
Asked why so many of the planes and ships at Pearl Harbor seemed to be bunched together for enemy convenience, Warren said that sabotage was the greater concern before the attack, rather than the attack itself.
We watched some video clips of the attack, including WWII street scenes of Honolulu, already familiar to Black Hills veterans who passed through this city on their way to war zones in the Pacific. In addition, Bill Casper brought some Honolulu newspaper headlines of the days right before the attack on December 7, 1941. An audio clip of another Pearl Harbor survivor, the late sailor Marvin Melius of Faulkton, exhibited the value of South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s WWII Homefront website in preserving South Dakota’s wartime memories.
Above: Steve Warren, 2009, at Veterans Writing Group (photo thanks to Rapid City Journal)