Pearl Harbor vet shares memories of attack


Photo by Abby Morris-Frye
U.S. Army veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor Ronda Baird proudly displays the medals he earned in the service. The medal located in the center of the top row is the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal he was awarded for his service there on the day of the attack.

  By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff
amorris@starhq.com
  Planes soared overhead as panicked faces turned up to look at the destruction that the planes were causing. America was under attack.
  While the above description fits the tragic events that shook the nation on Sept. 11, 2001, they also describe another time in America's history where this nation came under attack on Dec. 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy."
  Those words, "a date which will live in infamy," were used by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt to describe the horror felt by the nation following the surprise attack by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan on the United States Naval forces stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
  On the eve of the Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, one local veteran who was at the military installation there on the day of the attack -- Ronda Baird, 82, of Garrison Hollow Road in Siam -- shared his memories of that fateful day which eventually led to the United States' involvement in World War II.
  "I don't know where to start. We were supposed to go out on maneuvers that morning. We had just lined up out in the quadrangle," Baird said. "We heard these planes coming over and we thought it was the planes that were supposed to go out on maneuvers with us until they started strafing (shooting) our barracks, we knew better then."
  Many of the planes flown by the Japanese pilots were flying extremely low to the ground and Baird -- who was a Technician Corporal in F Company of the 19th Infantry, 24th Division of the Army -- stated that he got a good look at one of them. "One pilot flew right over top of the barracks," he said. "He got right over top of the barracks and I looked up and he tilted his plane right over on the side and looked right down at me and was grinning. He was that close that I could see him grinning."
  In addition to destroying several ships which were docked at Pearl Harbor, Japanese pilots also destroyed and damaged many of the buildings at the military base by using machine gun fire from their airplanes. "They tell me that some of the buildings over there still got bullet holes in them," Baird said.
  Injuries and casualties were high as a result of the attack which caught the base unprepared. "We had to use civilian cars for ambulances because they didn't have enough ambulances," Baird said. "The hospital was right over from us over there and they (the Japanese) killed a lot of people over at that hospital."
  The soldiers and sailors at the military base were not equipped to handle the attack at Pearl Harbor.
  ""That morning they had our guns locked up and we couldn't get to them. We didn't have no guns or anything in those planes," said Baird. "Those pilots were trying to get guns on their planes. And they would run out and jump into a plane and try to take off to get into the air and fight them. The Japs, they just came in there with machine guns and cut them down before they could get into their planes.
  "We couldn't believe it when the Japs hit there for we didn't have any idea they was going to do anything like that. It was a surprise to all of us."
  The attack was as surprise and a shock to the entire nation, even to President Roosevelt. In his speech to the nation on Dec. 8, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt told the nation that right up until the time of the attack, the Japanese government had given no indication that it wanted anything but a peaceful relationship with the United States.
  "The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack," Roosevelt said in his speech. "It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government had deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace."
  When Baird was asked what was running through his mind as he witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor, he said that he did not know what to say. "I can't even think of anything that I remember. I was just tore up I guess, scared and things like that," he said. "I know we was all scared to death."
  After the attacks, Baird said that the base was left in devastation and ruin. "It was just ships sunk, sticking up out of the water and some of them completely sunk," he said.
  According to Baird, a large amount of spy activity had been going on at Pearl Harbor and on the Island of Oahu. "They had a lot of spies, the Japs did, there on the island," he said. "They had an arrows cut out in the sugarcane fields pointing direct to the military targets so the planes would know where to bomb or strafe."
  Following Pearl Harbor, Baird and his Company were put into action and sent for specialized training before being deployed into the Pacific Theatre of the war.
  "We left there and went to Australia to take jungle training. General McArthur, he told us that he was saving us to go back into the Philippines. When we hit on Late island there in the Philippines, the Japs sunk three of our aircraft carriers, no two aircraft carriers, they sunk two of them. The planes was out bombing and they didn't have no place to land when they came back because we didn't have no air strip because we hadn't ever took the island. So they just had to crash along the beach and some of the pilots bailed out of the planes," Baird said. "When we landed there, made that invasion there on Leyte in the Philippines, I had my jeep on the ship and I had so much ammunition and everything on the trailer to pull it why when I went off the ship I got stuck and they had to hook a bulldozer to it and pull it into the beach. Gen. McArthur he came off his ship and came up on the beach and he didn't stay about 10 or 15 minutes and then he went back on his ship. They told me when I got on the beach to get that water proofing off of my jeep as quick as I could. I got up on the jeep and started taking the waterproofing and the Japs opened up on machine gun fire and I hit my arm against the exhaust pipe on it that run up by the windshield and it burned it (his arm) real bad. I didn't want to leave my company. I wanted to stay there and do what I could because we was in combat and I didn't want to leave them.
  "Two or three days later it looked like my arm was going to rot off so I went to the aid station. The doctor looked at it and said 'When did you do that?' and I said 'About two or three days ago' and he said 'If you had come in when you did it when it happened the I would have put you in for the Purple Heart' and I said 'Sir, the Purple Heart don't mean a thing to me.' So that knocked me out of that Purple Heart."
  Baird said the battle for Late Island was hard fought. "It was rough on that invasion there because those planes, the Jap planes, they were everywhere coming in there and sinking ships, they got them two aircraft carriers," he said. "We went ahead and took Leyte Island and after we took it they sent us into Mendura Island. We pulled in the harbor there one night and the next morning we was unloading the ships and a bunch of Japanese planes came right over the mountain with the sun and they just started pealing off and diving into them ships. There were ships all over the harbor."
  The Japanese did not strike the ship that Baird was on but they sunk the ship on either side of it. "The one I was on they never even hit it," he said.
  Following his tours of duty in the Pacific Theatre, Baird was honorably discharged from the Army in June of 1945. He later married his wife, Ruby, and the two currently reside in the Siam community.
  He was awarded with the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon, the American Defense Service Ribbon and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon. Then, in 1991, in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States awarded the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal to all the soldiers and sailors who had served there at the time of the attack.