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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Rude Awakening ~ A Day Of Infamy

Yesterday marked a very important day, a day of infamy. While I was wrapped up in the thoughts of sinking my teeth into a warm, sweet doughnut, the back of my mind kept saying, "Mention Tom!" There is no way to fuse the attack on Pearl Harbor with Krispy Kremes, so today, I'll mention Tom. I always seem to be, a day late and a dollar short. Why should this time be any different?

I interviewed Tom for a newspaper story honoring the anniversary. Editors have certain rules they have to enforce to be politically correct and because of that, some of the best things Tom talked about were cut out of the story. So here is what they didn't want you to read.

December 7, 1941 at 7:55 a.m., Tom Prindiville was caught with his pants down. He was a 20 year old Third Class Gunner's Mate in the US Navy. Sound asleep on the Battleship Maryland, docked at Pearl Harbor, Tom might have been dreaming, maybe the ship wasn't rocking and the smell of smoke was all in his twilight imagination.

"I woke up wearing nothing but my skivvies. We were tied to the Oklahoma and the Japs were attacking. Torpedoes hit the Oklahoma. The bombs and ships blowing up got everybody awake. It was a mess. They already got us before I knew what was going on. It had been such nice warm weather, which is how I got by in just my underpants. There was no time to put clothes on so I jumped out of my bunk and got into position. Hell, it wasn't until the next day before I had time to put some clothes on."

The blue Hawaiian sky filled with black smoke. As the Battleship Okalahoma was repeatedly bombed, Tom thought about the lives that were certain to be lost. Men he trained with, friends he'd made and his own mortality all flashed before him.

"You kept a stiff upper lip and did what needed doing. It's still fresh in my mind. I saw the planes diving in and things blowing up all around me. I'll never forget his beady little eyes looking so hateful at me as that pilot flew right by. It was one of the few times I had real eye contact with one of the Japs. We took him down."

He said the news at the time never mentioned talks of a potential attack from the Japanese weeks beforehand. "Oh, we knew alright. We just didn't know when it was going to happen."

Tom, like so many, had just finished training at the time of the attack. He said so many of his comrades were not ready for what they endured. During those times of war, there were no psychologists on hand and even some of the medical doctors were also fresh out of training.

Tom was one of the lucky ones. "The worst thing that happened to me was the burns I got from the hot cases flying out of my gun. I had burns on my arms, hands and legs. Wasn't so bad. At least I got to put my pants on the next day."

At the age of 83, Tom closes his eyes, thinks back to that day and said, "It's been so long ago, you just don't let it bother you anymore. War hit you like a ton in the first place, but you made yourself get used to it because it's all you could do." A smile crossed his face, "Heck, I went through many battles after Pearl Harbor and I made damn sure to keep my pants right by the bed, as to not get caught in my skivvies again."

During the interview Tom shared his scrapbook with me, which is another thing the editor didn't care about. For me, it was a look back to a different time and place. I saw a picture of Tom, who happened to be a damn good looking guy back then, holding a bare-breasted Hula girl in one hand and a Mai Tai in the other, with a smile on his face that he said meant, "If this is war, let me pull out my gun sweetie."

Thanks Tom for sharing your whole story!