Jamestown man recalls attack on Pearl HarborOn Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked the American forces at Pearl Harbor. For many Americans it is just a historic event. For an ever-decreasing number of veterans it was something they witnessed firsthand and would never forget.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked the American forces at Pearl Harbor. For many Americans it is just a historic event. For an ever-decreasing number of veterans it was something they witnessed firsthand and would never forget.
Clement Lonski was a 19-year-old sailor on board the USS Antares on that day. He had enlisted in the Navy earlier in 1941 a few months after graduating from Sykeston (N.D.) High School.
“I was just getting ready to go on liberty,” Lonski recalled. “According to the Japanese plan, we were supposed to be blown up in the harbor.”
Liberty is time off the ship in port for recreation.
The Antares spotted a Japanese miniature submarine following it near the opening to Pearl Harbor. The speculation was the submarine planned to torpedo the ship in the opening, blockading the harbor.
The Antares was a supply ship and carried no weapons. It was also returning to port to restock.
“We didn’t have a potato to throw at them,” Lonski said. “We were coming to our home port empty.”
The Antares called on the USS Ward, a battleship patrolling the area, which managed to sink the miniature submarine. Within minutes after this action, the air attack on Pearl Harbor began.
During the air attack the Antares was strafed by Japanese aircraft but suffered no casualties.
The Antares was routed away from the attack and docked at Honolulu Harbor. Days later Lonski had a chance to view the damage at Pearl Harbor.
“A mess,” he said. “The water was black with oil with bodies floating in places. You name it, it was in the water. There were still fires burning, complete destruction in so many places, sunken ships, ships turned over.”
Lonski was one of about 65,000 American soldiers and sailors at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. According to Ray Brittain, Powell, Wyo., a former director of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, there are approximately 2,000 still surviving. Lonski is among the very few survivors left in North Dakota.
Brittain said the organization recently decreased its officers from eight to four directors because of declining membership.
“We don’t even know how many of us are left,” he said. “The number of Pearl Harbor survivors decreases almost every day.”
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association hopes that the battle and the message of preparedness is not forgotten.
“Our motto is ‘Remember Pearl Harbor, keep America alert,’” Brittain said. “We must not forget that we can be attacked by surprise.”
The most recent surprise attack on America, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, caused roughly the same number of casualties as the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941, he said.
Lonski said he returned to Pearl Harbor during survivor conventions many times over the years. He laments the commercialization of the island and the area immediately surrounding the monuments to those who perished during the attack.
Lonski’s six-year enlistment in the Navy spanned the entire length of World War II. After Pearl Harbor he was transferred back to the mainland to train in the operation and maintenance of landing craft. He was later stationed in England where he prepared and maintained the boats that were used to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
When his six-year enlistment ended in 1947, Lonski returned to North Dakota. He worked as an electrician at various locations around the state until retiring in Jamestown. He currently resides at Eventide at Hi-Acres in Jamestown.
Lonski was recently honored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars with the VFW Post 760 Citation for his service to nation and community.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org