The Best Times
Seventy-two years have not dulled the memories of Dowin Lamkin, Mission; Jack Carson, Overland Park; or Edmund “Russ” Russell, Lenexa.
They are among an estimated 8,000 survivors, including only approximately five in Johnson County, of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. Telling that story is still vivid in the minds of the nonagenarians.
“It’s important for people to know that there was such a thing as an attack in 1941 on December the 7th,” Lamkin said. “It’s part of history. It’s one of the biggest events in our history. 9/11 may equal it, but it can’t be forgotten.”
He joined the Navy in December 1940. It was the first time he left his hometown, Hudson, Wis., to see the world while serving his country.
At age 91, Lamkin can point to a map where the eight battleships were moored that day in Pearl Harbor and put his finger on the USS Nevada in Battleship Row. That was where he was that morning when the first attack began shortly before 8 a.m.
“We were the only one (battleship) to get under way and were hit several times – one fatally,” he said.
Operating at minimum speed at best, the Nevada became a prime target for the Japanese planes after leaving its mooring, taking a torpedo almost immediately and at least a minimum of six bomb hits. The low-moving battleship was ordered grounded at Hospital Point near Ford Island because of concern the ship would sink and block the channel out of Pearl Harbor.
Lamkin, a corpsman, was on duty in sick bay on the battleship when war began.
“I will always remember what strafed, bombed bodies, the living and the dead, look like,” he said.
After the attack, Lamkin went to Navy lab school and served on the USS San Francisco from 1943-45 at the battles of Tarawa, Kwajelein (Marshall Islands), Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Attu (Alaska).
He attended the University of Kansas for more than a year, and was in a receiving station in San Francisco, expecting to be part of an invasion force in the Pacific Theater, when the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lamkin was then sent to the Philippines as a hospital lab technician, ending his six years of naval service as a pharmacist’s mate first class.
Russell, 96, always wears a Hawaiian shirt to Pearl Harbor events. A native of Tiger Bay, Fla., he enlisted in November 1940 and was a PFC in the Army Air Corps working as a butcher at Wheeler Field when the first bomb dropped in the Japanese attack that claimed almost 2,400 American lives.
Was he scared?
“Yes, I was scared,” he said.
Did he run?
“No, but I passed a lot of people who were running,” he answers with a laugh.
An aviation cadet, Russell went to bombardier school and became a bombardier instructor. He later went to navigation school. After VE Day, Russell was sent to India and China, serving a total of seven years of active duty. After that, he served 29 years in the Air Force Reserves, flying with the 442nd as a navigator on flights that included supply runs to Vietnam.
Russell retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1977. He now lives at Lakeview Village.
Like Lamkin, Carson was a Wisconsin native, joining the Army Air Corps in 1940 from Waukesha. He enlisted for four years with a guarantee to be sent to Hawaii – the island of nice, warm weather and hula girls – after his basic training. He landed at the islands on Dec. 12, 1940.
While Europe was at war, the United States was not, Carson thought he was as far away as he could possibly be from armed conflict. He was at Hickam Field, which was adjacent to Pearl Harbor, at the time of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy.”
“I joined to go to Hawaii on a military vacation, not to go to war,” Carson said.
The morning of the attack, a Sunday, did not start out unusual. Carson, like many others, was asleep in their barracks. At about 7:55 a.m., the bombing began. Gunfire from Japanese aircraft was poking holes in the barrack windows and walls, and he ran to look from a balcony.
“At first, I thought the Navy was having target practice,” he said. “Then, I saw the meatball on the side of the planes.”
The mess hall where breakfast was being served had direct hits, claiming 51 lives. The aerial attacks destroyed or damaged most of the planes on the ground, hangars, and other main buildings at Hickam.
“I wasn’t afraid,” Carson said. “I felt anger more than anything else.”
From Pearl Harbor, he was sent to the Fiji Islands until 1944 as part of a support group providing fuel and supplies to the war effort. He then trained as a flight steward and served in South Africa, Algeria, and Morocco. He then was assigned to Stockton, Calif., welcoming returning veterans.
After the war, Carson was a trainer at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. He re-enlisted in 1949 and was a VIP flight steward, flying senators and generals. From 1967 to 1971 he was stationed at Richards-Gebaur AFB, retiring in 1971 as a tech sergeant after 30 years of military service.
Now 90, Carson has no regrets in his long military service, but longs to achieve at least one more milestone in his life.
“I had two uncles who lived to be 99,” he said with a smile. “I want to beat them both.”
The Best Times is a monthly newspaper of Johnson County Government.