Seventy-five years ago today, it was a chilly, sunny Sunday morning in Fort Worth, Texas. On the town’s Northside, at Rosen Heights Baptist Church the Pastor was wrapping up his sermon with the choir and congregation singing “Just as I Am” while he closed with the Invitation—just like every other Southern Baptist church was doing that morning. Sitting near the pews were my mom, aunt, uncle, and grandmother. Mom said about halfway through the song one of the church deacons came in with a big radio and whispered in the Pastor’s ear, and from the grave look on both of their faces she knew something was up. He held his hand up and to shush everyone as the deacon plugged in the radio to warm up. “Japan has been bombed by Hawaii this morning,” he said to a hushed and gasping congregation. “The radio says many ships and lives have been lost. Will the congregation please hold hands? We’ll pray for the dead, for the wounded, and for those that lived.” and after clasping hands, everyone bowed their heads and did just that, followed by recitation of the 23rd Psalm—“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil … ”
Four thousand miles away, a beautiful Hawaiian morning was dawning over Pearl Harbor. The trade winds blew softly as the sailors of the Pacific Fleet, anchored in the Harbor, were waking up. Cecil Hollingshead was assigned to the USS Oklahoma but hadn’t yet reported in, staying instead in the barracks. He was just going to breakfast at the PX when the attack started. “I heard loud explosions coming from the hangar area, about 200 feet from me, and saw planes were strafing the buildings first before moving to attack the ships. I’ve never heard noise that loud. I looked out into the distance and I could see them—hundreds, thousands of airplanes zooming down the central valley. They looked like a swarm of angry yellow jackets.” But the airplanes weren’t yellow. They had the red ball of the Empire of Japan on them. “We picked up guns that were so heavy we had to put them on one man’s back then take turns shooting. We ran out of ammo after about thirty minutes and they were still attacking us. We all got hit by shrapnel—I just got grazed but one of the guys alternating doing the shooting got hit right in the throat and died right there. We couldn’t stop his bleeding.” He said several of the other men got minor injuries too, but they were able to carry on.
After the ammunition supply was exhausted and there was nothing more to shoot with, they ran for the harbor to help get men—or bodies—out of the water. When asked if he had thought to run for cover, he laughed and said, “We all knew a war had just started, and we weren’t about to tuck tail and run. We were going to do what we could and help whoever needed it.” Many of the men they pulled from the water were alive; others were injured, some severely; others were dead. “But we must have pulled a hundred ‘live ones’ from the water that morning.” As they pulled their compatriots to safety, he watched the USS Arizona get hit, then sink, followed by the USS Oklahoma—the ship he was to have boarded later that day. Just on those two ships alone over 1,700 lives were lost.
I was lucky enough to talk to Mr. Hollingshead earlier this year, and while it was easy to get him to talk about Pearl Harbor, after he noticed the Southwest logo emblazoned on my shirt, he was more eager to talk about our airline than his past. “You people are just so good and so nice. Always looking to help everybody.” And when he said that, I wanted to reply “Wait, YOU ran into battle to save others despite being shot at, and WE are the ones that help everybody??” But I just smiled and said thank you.
And that’s the part of our conversation that keeps playing in my head. The men and women involved that day showed both Warrior Spirit and Servants’ Hearts by the ton, despite over 3,500 of them either being wounded or killed. They lived, and died, bravely protecting their country and others, ignoring the carnage and mayhem all around them. While it’s not surprising the first reaction of the congregation at Rosen Heights Baptist would be to pray for the soldiers and their safety, it amazes me still that all of those brave soldiers ran into harm’s way to help their fellow soldiers and sailors. And Mr. Hollingshead, after telling many stories and jokes, definitely proved he has a Fun-LUVing Attitude!
At 96, he was a little unsteady on his feet, but his memories were still sharp as a tack. Unfortunately, I’ve heard he fell a while ago and was badly injured. His story-telling days are over. That’s why it’s important to hear the stories of the survivors first-hand while we can, as we’re losing them fast. Of the 60,000 that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, all are in their 90s or above. Only 2,500 to 3,000 remain, and several die each day.
Today, if you can, make some time to think about all of those people in and around Pearl Harbor that were living the Southwest Way 75 years ago, long before there was a Southwest Airlines. They were not only, as Tom Brokaw dubbed them, “the Greatest Generation.” Those at Pearl Harbor and thousands of others went onto save humanity from the tyranny of Japanese Imperialism, Mussolini’s Fascism, and the horrors of Hitler’s Nazi party. And three-quarters of a century later, we—the 54,000 men and women of Southwest Airlines—carry on the characteristics they lived by: Warrior Spirit, Servants’ Hearts, and Fun-LUVing Attitude.
God bless and protect all of those that have, and still do, keep us safe and free. Have a good day, everyone.