Pearl Harbor Survivor: God, Please Don’t Let Me Die in This Ditch

Jack Holder survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941, and attended the 75th anniversary commemoration at Wheeler Army Airfield, Dec. 5, 2016, that honored the more than 30 people killed there in the Japanese attack

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Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii – Clutching onto each other for their lives, Jack Holder and his shipmates huddled in a ditch on Hawaii’s Ford Island as a Japanese pilot overhead tried to kill them.

Holder, of Phoenix, Arizona, recalls hearing a “screaming aircraft [and] moments later, a terrible explosion” on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, just as a section leader had started roll call.

“I remember everything vividly,” Holder said.

A 19-year-old Navy aviation machinist’s mate second class the time of the attack, he and his shipmates raced outside. “We all [ran] and jumped in the ditch, [and sat] there clinging to each other,” he said.

Then a bomb hit the hangar next to them.

“All of our aircraft were parked between them. Half of them were on fire,” he said. Japanese fire strafed his hangar.

A Japanese pilot spotted the sailors and circled back. His fire strafed the ditch, Holder said, hitting the dirt piled up next to the ditch.

“I could still see him making the approach with the grinning white teeth and the leather helmet,” he said. “It’s a memory I’ll never forget.”

Witness to Death and Destruction

From Ford Island, an islet in the harbor, Holder said he saw all around him the devastation caused by two waves of Japanese bombardments.

“Between the two attacks, I watched the Arizona, the West Virginia, the Tennessee, the Nevada, the Oklahoma, the California, all on fire, all sinking,” he said.

“I’ve been asked a million times I guess, what my thoughts were at that time, and I guess my most vivid memory is ‘God, please don’t let me die in this ditch,'” he said.

Racing through his mind, he said, was “everything in the world — anger, wonderment, the excitement of how do we retaliate, all of those things — but we got our revenge in Midway.”

On the Frontlines of War

A PBY5-A Catalina flight engineer who served in the Navy for eight years, Holder, like many young men, soon found himself on the frontlines of the war.

“I survived Pearl Harbor. I then went to the battle of Midway. I was in the second aircraft response to [the] Japanese fleet approach in Midway,” he said.

It was then on to Guadalcanal, he said, where he flew 48 missions over the area and the Solomon Islands. Then, after B-24 Liberator training, Holder said he went off to Europe and flew 56 missions over the English Channel.

Learn to Respect, Be Willing to Defend Nation

Holder spoke during an interview Dec. 5 at Wheeler Army Airfield, where he was attending a commemoration to honor the more than 30 people killed there when Japanese attacked military sites throughout the island of Oahu.

To be in Hawaii for the 75th anniversary of the attacks, he said, is wonderful. “It brings back all those memories. It brings back a healing moment, brings back a lot of relief,” he said.

“You relive the moments. You’re so grateful for our wonderful country in which we live,” he said. “You regret the sacrifices but you also exhilarate from the victory that we made and how we’re doing now.”

Holder, in his presentations to young people, has a message:

“I tried to stress with them the need for them to stay in school, learn all the education they can,” he said, “and remember that we live in the greatest country in the world, learn to respect it, and be willing to protect it.”

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