Misremembering Pearl Harbor with Mr. Williams

 

Japanese photograph taken during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

Mr. Williams was the best substitute teacher at Shadow Mountain High School. Not to say he was good at teaching. To be honest, he was terrible. But any day students saw the elderly man shuffle to the chalkboard to scribble his name, we knew we were in for a treat.

The first time I had him “teach” was for my freshman Algebra class. He didn’t mention math. Instead, he gave us a play-by-play of Dec. 7, 1941. Mr. Williams had enlisted in the US Navy before the war and was stationed at Pearl Harbor.

He saw Japanese Zeros fly into view and corrected his fellow sailors when they said the planes were friendlies. He found an unmanned anti-aircraft gun and took down one of them by shooting off a wing. He needed to evacuate a wounded friend but the only vehicle near him had a blown-out tire. So, he ripped a big wooden circle off a cable spool and mounted it where the tire should be to get it moving. “That’s why, to this day,” Mr. Williams said, “Navy jeeps always keep a wooden wheel in back.”

None of us knew how old he was. To us teens, he might as well have been 100. Yet over the next few years, Mr. Williams substituted for my Social Studies teacher, History teacher, and Drafting teacher. (Remember drafting?) To the stories above, he would weave in extra details, drama, and feats of derring-do.

We knew these were tall tales, at least in part. But we also knew the old fella was actually on the ground that day watching the world around him dissolve into fire and smoke. All the faculty gave him great deference as he walked the halls wearing a purple heart pinned to his shabby coat. Who cares if he’s a bit of a storyteller? He earned it.

I often thought about Mr. Williams’s stories when I was a Navy NCO walking around Pearl Harbor. I tried to match the vivid images he painted with various locations on base. I even asked Shore Patrol if they kept a wooden wheel in their vehicles. They looked at me like I was crazy.

Too bad for them, I thought. They should have learned algebra from Mr. Williams.

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  1. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: We knew these were tall tales, at least in part. But we also knew the old fella was actually on the ground that day watching the world around him dissolve into fire and smoke. All the faculty gave him great deference as he walked the halls wearing a purple heart pinned to his shabby coat. Who cares if he’s a bit of a storyteller? He earned it.

    Amen.  Thank you, Mr. Williams.  

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    BDB (View Comment):
    Amen.  Thank you, Mr. Williams.

    Ditto.

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: We knew these were tall tales, at least in part. But we also knew the old fella was actually on the ground that day watching the world around him dissolve into fire and smoke. All the faculty gave him great deference as he walked the halls wearing a purple heart pinned to his shabby coat. Who cares if he’s a bit of a storyteller? He earned it.

    Yes indeed, he earned it . . .

    • #2
  3. BastiatJunior Member
    BastiatJunior
    @BastiatJunior

    Funny and moving.  Great post!

    • #3
  4. Ilan Levine Member
    Ilan Levine
    @IlanLevine

    Thanks John. A greater post than you might even realize.

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
    And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
    Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
    But he’ll remember with advantages
    What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
    Familiar in his mouth as household words
    Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
    Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

    And if you should hear a stretcher or two, it is of little matter. They were heroes all.

    • #5
  6. Rightfromthestart Coolidge
    Rightfromthestart
    @Rightfromthestart

    Percival (View Comment):

    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
    And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
    Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
    But he’ll remember with advantages
    What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
    Familiar in his mouth as household words
    Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
    Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

    And if you should hear a stretcher or two, it is of little matter. They were heroes all.

    ‘Remember with advantages’ Thank you, I just now understand the meaning of that line 

    • #6
  7. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: He needed to evacuate a wounded friend but the only vehicle near him had a blown-out tire. So, he ripped a big wooden circle off a cable spool and mounted it where the tire should be to get it moving. “That’s why, to this day,” Mr. Williams said, “Navy jeeps always keep a wooden wheel in back.”

    Are you sure your teacher wasn’t Joe Biden?

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What a sweet story, Jon. Thank you.

    • #8
  9. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: He needed to evacuate a wounded friend but the only vehicle near him had a blown-out tire. So, he ripped a big wooden circle off a cable spool and mounted it where the tire should be to get it moving. “That’s why, to this day,” Mr. Williams said, “Navy jeeps always keep a wooden wheel in back.”

    Are you sure your teacher wasn’t Joe Biden?

    Party foul.

    • #9
  10. Colleen Coolidge
    Colleen
    @Colleen

    Ilan Levine (View Comment):

    Thanks John. A greater post than you might even realize.

    Amen

    • #10