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First strike at Pearl Harbor

The crew of the California abandons ship after taking two torpedos and two bomb hits


Wicker was born in Scotlandville, Louisiana in 1923. He had a good life growing up, his father worked for the railroad. Since his father worked, they were alright financially. He tried to play football in high school but it did not work out. He did not have any idea of the problems in the world until he was sixteen.Wicker wanted to join the Marines. He waited for the train to take him to New Orleans and when he got down he signed up for the Marines. They required a confirmation from his parents that he was 18. His parents vouched for him. He left for San Diego that same day. He was new to travel and the recruit depot was an interesting sight.He enjoyed the training. They went on the rifle range and went on hikes. He felt that he was trained well. He missed home to start with; he did not get any leave for four years. Wicker went into the 6th Marine Division to start with. One day he went up to the officer and asked him for a leave. He wanted a 30 day leave to go back to Louisiana; he was given 15 but he could not go back to Louisiana in that time. He was sent to sea school and that is how he winded up on the California [Annotator’s Note: the USS California (BB-44)]. They taught the men how to make knots, wear their uniforms right, and other things having to do with serving at sea. Wicker does not recall how long he was in sea training. When they got ready to go on the California they were in Point Loma, California. He rode a tanker to Pearl Harbor.Pearl Harbor was a nice place to be. He was young and the trip to Pearl Harbor did not bother him, but after awhile he would have rather been back at home. A lot of guys were very sea sick. A boat took him across Pearl Harbor to the California. He recalls saluting the first officer he saw on the boat. He fell in with the new men. He had different types of guard duty on the ship. They were allowed a day or two here and there to go into Honolulu.They lost one Marine during the bombing; Wicker had just gotten off of that post. He was on guard duty on the forward part of the ship when the Japanese came in. One Japanese plane came very close to him. He thought they were using the USS California for practice maneuvers. At that point though a torpedo hit the ship and he knew it was for real. Wicker manned his battle station which was on a 5 inch gun. The first bomb that hit the California disabled the elevator that allowed them to bring ammunition up. The captain of the California was in town [Annotator’s Note: probably Honolulu] when the attack occurred. When it was all over, the captain came back and saw the ship on a list.


Another torpedo came and hit the USS California [Annotator’s Note: during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor]. Another bomb hit the California shortly after the second torpedo. After the ship was lost they abandoned ship. The oil slick from the USS Arizona was why they abandoned ship; it was creeping through the harbor. They witnessed the USS Oklahoma capsizing so it did not take much coercion to abandon ship. Wicker abandoned ship and swam to Ford Island.Ford Island was a couple of hundred yards from the California. He and one of his buddies jumped together, men were jumping off at will. More men followed him and his buddy. There were fire fighting boats in the harbor helping the men who were swimming.He does not recall what he did the night before the attack. He went on guard duty at 8 AM the morning of December 7th [Annotator’s Note: 1941]. When the first torpedo hit the ship he knew something was wrong. He was not able to shoot at the Japanese plane that buzzed him because all he had was a pistol. He did not like the Japanese any more after the attack. They thought nothing like that could happen.Wicker had been in port for only three to four days before the attack. He saw the Oklahoma capsize. He saw the Nevada get underway. The Japanese swarmed the Nevada and that may have saved the California. He saw the Arizona get hit; they had a ringside seat to everything until they abandoned ship. Wicker saw the Arizona explode. The men around him did not seem scared; everyone was young and did not have much sense. He saw a lot of Japanese planes in the air; they were like bees. He is positive the Nevada saved them from getting another torpedo. When the Nevada got underway it was harassed by about five planes at first.Wicker and his buddy went over to the cafeteria on Ford Island and there were wounded guys on every table. He walked around and handed oranges to the men if they could eat it. He and his buddy were on the loose throughout the night and the next day because no one was around to tell them what to do. Later on they took the guns off of the ship and set them up on Ford Island. Wicker manned a World War I machine gun. Later on they sent some guys into Pearl Harbor to guard prisoners. They were American prisoners who were in the brig [Annotator’s Note: naval military prison]. Wicker could hear gunshots all over the place the first night after the attack. Jumping off of the California was the most memorable moment, they had to jump off of the high side and it was about thirty feet down to the water. His buddy was a better swimmer then him.


Wicker was not fast enough so his buddy would help him swim along in the water [Annotator’s Note: during the attack on Pearl Harbor]. The guys who were wounded had wounds from aircraft machineguns; some of the guys were burned. About a week later they were allowed to go back on the USS California. His room was not one of the rooms that was underwater. He went aboard and got his sea bag. He was aboard the California for nine or ten months before Pearl Harbor.He had one buddy named Walter Ray from New Orleans. He was Wicker's best buddy. They went on numerous furloughs. The women on Honolulu were not his type. They sent everyone to Pearl City after he was done guarding the prisoners in Pearl Harbor. They had a seat on the front of the truck where the prisoners were picking up garbage. They were told to shoot anyone who decided to run away. In Pearl City they had different men from different ships helping out with whatever needed help. Wicker met some of the men from the sunken ships but most guys were in shock and not in the mood to talk about it.When the Oklahoma toppled over they saw men scattering and falling into the water. One of Wicker's wife’s brothers-in-law was on the Oklahoma and he made it off alright. Pearl Harbor was an awful sight the morning of December 8th [Annotator’s Note: 1941]. No one could believe it had happened. Most of the ships were still smoking and on fire. Some days they had to help clean up debris.Wicker was sent to the Marshall Islands after his stint in Pearl City. He was in the Marshalls for three weeks before he was given leave. That was the first time he got to go home in four years. He came back to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His parents greeted him when he came back; they were glad to see him. They were aware that he was at Pearl Harbor, his parents did not question him about his service. When he came back he met his wife. He was still in the Marines when he came back on leave.Wicker was then sent to Camp Lejeune where he stayed for about six months. In the meanwhile he married his wife, in December of 1944. He was sent to Ireland after he got married to babysit a U-Boat base. He was in Ireland when the war ended. The United States took one of those U-Boats so they could potentially reverse engineer it. He felt good being over there when the Germans surrendered.


Wicker was told to go relieve the man on the gate but he refused because he knew he had more points than any man over there [Annotator’s Note: in Ireland at the end of the war in Europe]. They changed their minds and put him on a ship to go home for the last time. He enjoyed the ride. They landed in New York on a carrier that took them back. There was no fanfare when they returned to New York. He went back to Camp Lejeune where he was discharged. He was happy to get discharged. After that he caught the bus to the train station. The depot agent told him the train was not going to stop at that station. Wicker told him his dad worked for the railroad and the man was able to get the train to New Orleans to stop and pick him up.Wicker was proud of the atomic bombs being dropped since it brought about a quick resolution to the war. He had friends who were serving in both the Pacific and in Europe. His first payday he received ten dollars; it was more than enough money at the time. It was more money than he ever had. He wishes that he would have kept the silver dollars they paid him with.Wicker believes that it is important that we have museums such as the National World War II Museum. It is important for younger people to see what really happened during the war. He feels that kids nowadays do not pay much attention to history and our nations past. Future generations should try to do better.Wicker feels that Pearl Harbor was a big blunder that could have been prevented. The Japanese did not care about life. He feels that the Japanese are a better people today than they were back then. He feels that the United States is the best country. Pearl Harbor was something that happened and it made us better. He did not like going to the Marshall Islands because he was on a troop ship going over.


When they got to the Marshall Islands they had to go over the side of the ship; that was a hard thing to do. He did not like that. After the Japanese were mopped up on the Marshall Islands, he was sent to Jacob Island where they set up guns. He was sent home from Jacob Island.Wicker started in the 6th Marine Division and went to the USS California. From there he went out with the lost battalion. They were Marines from all different ships. Then he went to the Marshall Islands.Wicker was the happiest he had ever been when his name was called to return home. They rode a luxury liner back to Hawaii. They were given good food. The luxury ship still had all of its pre-war amenities. He cannot recall the name of the ship that brought him from Hawaii to the United States. He was glad to have served and was glad to get out. He did not want to join the reserves after he got discharged.

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