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Lesson learned at Pearl Harbor

Panic in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack

They're still on the ship

Childers first combat

Eyeball to eyeball with a Japanese pilot!



Childers was born in Sherman, California. When he was young, his parents move the family to the Oklahoma.When he was ten years old, his parents divorced. He was very bitter about the divorce, he believes, because he had to leave his baseball team.His mother moved him and his two younger brothers to Oklahoma City.Childers did o.k. in school. He would have done better if he had had time to study instead of going straight to work after school. If he didn't work, he didn't eat.In 1940 Childers was age 19. It had been announced that all males had to register for the draft at age 20. He knew people who had been drafted and did not want to go that route.He went to the Marine Corps recruiting office first, but wasn't impressed so he went to the Navy recruiters.Childers had been following the events in Europe. He thought that war was coming with Germany.Since Childers was a minor he had to have a parent sign for him. His father had been a medic in WWI and had seen terrible things. His father thought the navy was a good idea.He went to Dallas for his exams and then he was put on a train for San Diego for boot camp.Childers put in for radio school since it was the only one available. After his training he put in for destroyer duty and was assigned to the USS Cassin [Annotator's Note: DD-372]. The Cassin was at Pearl Harbor when Childers reported aboard.He started out in the deck force but quickly moved to the radio room.Childers was not happy being in the deck force. He felt that if he didn't use his knowledge of code he would lose it.In the radio room his job was to listen to the code coming across and to listen for the FOX broadcasts. During this time he decided that he didn't like going to sea. Life at sea was boring.


Childers got ten days leave and went to visit family down in Los Angeles, California.When they returned to Pearl Harbor in November 1941 the ship went into drydock. There were ships everywhere. The ship was in drydock on 7 December 1941.The ship was on blocks. On Saturday the men were scraping the hull and getting the ship ready to be painted. Scraping was an "all hands" job and even the captain was down by the men encouraging them to get the ship ready before the next day.On Sunday morning, Childers woke up around 7:30 and went to breakfast. He then went across the other destroyer tied up next to his to get a paper. He was reading his paper when he heard a loud boom. He went outside and saw a an airplane making a pass. When the plane turned he was able to see the Japanese insignia on the aircraft.An officer who had been preparing Childers for the Naval Academy ordered him to his battle station. His gun had been field stripped. There were no operational guns aboard the ship.Many of the crew including the commanding officer went off the ship to the dock to watch what was going on. The Pennsylvania was putting up alot of 5 inch fire.The commanding officer ordered his men back aboard the ship to get their gas masks. Childers got his mask and went back on deck. Childers saw a Japanese plane drop a bomb that hit the bottom of the drydock. When it detonated a wall of flame came up the side of the ship.A minute or 2 later Childers saw men going up the gangplank to get off the ship. He didn't line up. He climbed up to the bridge then ran across the plank to the dock.Childers saw a Marine with a BAR [Annotator's Note: Browning Automatic Rifle]. The Marine was aiming at a Japanese plane flying past. The Marine hit the plane and it started smoking. Childers learned at that point not to pull out low. He still had two wars to go through after World War II was over.He ran to a covered concrete driveway. When he got there he heard the loudest explosion he had ever heard. It was the magazine aboard the Shaw.


15 or 20 minutes later a Chief Petty Officer came and got some men to help him fight the fires aboard the USS Cassin [Annotator's Note: (DD-372)] and the USS Downes [Annotator's Note: (DD-375). The men were hosing down the Cassin when Childers notified the chief that there were live torpedoes aboard the Cassin. The chief told him not to worry about them. They soon got the fire out.Childers could see the battleships burning on Battleship Row especially the Arizona.Childers and the men he was with were told to form up and head to the Marine mess hall for lunch. None of the Cassin's officers were there. Childers doesn't think that there were any casualties other than 2 men who had found a machine gun and gotten into the crow's nest.That afternoon the men ate they were issued rifles and ammo. They went to bed at dark and told to sleep with their clothes on. They had heard rumors that the Japanese were landing at Kaneohe Bay.At midnight or 1 o'clock all hell broke loose. Childers jumped out of the window. American planes had flown over and were being fired at. Several of them were shot down.On 8 December Childers was assigned to the Fanning [Annotator's Note: USS Fanning, DD-385]. The ship went to sea as did all of the ships that could. They steamed out to Wake Island then were called back.Childers was upset. No one seemed to know how to get clothing or pay. Some of his friends from the Cassin told him that they were getting what they needed. After approaching the pay officer aboard his ship he was told to get the forms and the officer would sing them. He did and the men all got paid.The Fanning was assigned to escort 5000 Marines to Pago Pago, Samoa. The ship was caught in a storm the night before going into the harbor at Pago Pago. Childers was on watch and got soaking wet. After being relieved he went below deck he tried to dry his clothes.Suddenly there was a loud scrape. The Fanning had collided with another destroyer. The ship was there for 10 days while temporary repairs to get them back to Pearl Harbor.When they got back to Pearl Harbor Childers was in the radio shack copying the daily FOX. He heard a request for trained radiomen. He thought this was his ticket off the Fanning.


Childers went to the yeoman and requested a transfer form. He typed up the request and asked to be assigned to Torpedo Squadron 3 [Annotator's Note: VT3, Torpedo Squadron 3 flying from USS Saratoga (CV-3)] so he could be with his brother. The Communications Officer told him that he would see what he could do.The next day he read the on the info board that he had requested transfer to the USS Saratoga. He reported to the receiving station at Pearl Harbor. When he reported in, the yeoman, who he had served aboard the Cassin with, got him orders to VT3.Childers had spoken to the Personnel Officer in VT3 and asked how he could get in and was told that he couldn't. When he reported to the same officer that man was surprised.Childers' brother was an aviation machinist mate striker. He was happy to be in the squadron. He volunteered to take the generators off of all of the squadron's planes. One night Childers was on the floor in the radio shack when the Chief Radioman came in. The Chief was surprised to see Childers in there working at night. A few days later Childers was promoted to Aviaton Radioman 3rd Class.Childers would fly with anyone he could. He had joined the squadron around 1 March [Annotator's Note: 1 March 1942].


About a month before the Battle of Midway the skipper decided to assign crews. The chief radioman asked if anyone had a preference as to who they flew with. Childers chose Harry Corl. He thought he was the best pilot in the squadron.The flight crews were all called together and told what they would encounter when they got into combat. They were told that if they launched 15 planes at least 3 would get through and accomplish their mission. About a month later they were in combat.The squadron was told to go abord the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown, CV-5].Childers flew with Harry Corl who was an enlisted pilot who had made warrant officer on 1 June [Annotator's Note: 1 June 1942] because Admiral King didn't want enlisted men flying. All enlisted pilot were promoted to officers status.When Childers heard the forecast he was shocked. At about the same time they were told that the torpedo squadrons that took part in the Coral Sea battle did well.The Devastator [Annotator's Note: Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber] was the first all metal airplane in the fleet. Childers had heard Bill Esders [Annotator's Note: Wilhelm George Esders] and some of the enlisted pilots talk about it. Childers and Bill Esders were the only survivors of VT3 after Harry Corl was killed at Guadalcanal.Esders had joined VT3 [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 3] several years before and loved the TBD. The TBD was very stable for carrier landings. The only thing it lacked was speed. It had been in the fleet since 1935 as President Roosevelt was a believer in controlling the world's oceans. The Cassin [Annotator's Note: USS Cassin, DD-372] and Downes [Annotator's Note: USS Downes, DD-375] were also built during this time.Childers countered on the TBD to be tough.When they went aboard the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown, CV-5] Childers folded the wings on his plane. He heard a crash when an F4F [Annotator's Note: Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft] missed the wires, jumped the barrier, and crashed into the XO [Annotator's Note: Executive Officer] of VF3's [Annotator's Note: Fighting Squadron 3] plane, killing him. That convinced Childers that a flight deck was a very dangerous plane.


The planes all arrived about the same time. They then steamed north.The men knew that the Japanese had sent an armada in their direction which included 5 carriers.While underway Childers didn't get to fly. They knew at this point what they were facing.On the night before the men were starting to get nervous. They got up at 3:00 am. He and his brother were sharing a locker. Living aboard the carrier was different than a destroyer.The bomb that had hit the USS Yorktown [Annotator's Note: CV-5] at Coral Sea had damaged the ship's store but it didn't affect the operation of the ship. The ship had been patched up but the repaired areas hadn't been painted. On the carrier there was a soda fountain and they got fresh bread. On the destroyer they ate well but didn't have those.They got up and had breakfast at about 4:00 in the morning. When they got in line they saw that they were being served steak and eggs. Someone commented that it was a last meal for the condemned men.At 5:00 am there was a briefing in the ready room. The radiomen/gunners were in the back just to know what they would be going into.The back seat in the Devastator [Annotator's Note: Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo plane] would swing 90 degrees right or left. Later on this gave Childers a problem.Childers group was to be held in reserve.The plan was to arrive over the Japanese fleet while they were launching or recovering airplanes.At around 10:00 am an announcement was made for all aircrews to man their planes. The planes were already warmed up when the crews got to them.While the men were getting dressed before breakfast Childers took his wallet and wristwatch off and left them with his brother Wayne. The watch and wallet went down with the ship.


When Childers strapped in he said over the radio that it was his birthday and that he wanted to celebrate.Three of the group's planes had problems so the squadron only launched twelve planes. They were the last planes off. They were each armed with a 2000 pound torpedo.The plane dropped close to the water when they launched. The planes then headed in the direction they had been briefed. Childers could see the other squadrons flying above him. They were all flying in tight formation.Flying in formation burned up lot of fuel. Years later Childers asked an officer who had been a Marine Corps captain flying from Midway why they were all flying formation and was told that it was because they didn't know what they were doing.After an hour and a half Childers saw a big geyser of water. The torpedo planes were very low. Only about 200 feet. Later on he learned that the geyser was caused by SBDs [Annotator's Note: SBD Dauntless dive bombers] flying above them.Childers called out smoke on the horizon. They used hand signals because they had been forbidden to use the radio.Childers saw a Zero [Annotator's Note: Japanese fighter aircraft] heading at them. When he tried to fire at it he still had the safety on.When they were on their run Childers looked down and saw that they were flying right over a cruiser. That scared him.Then the Zeros came. There were about 25 of them. When Childers looked at the skipper, he could see the plane on fire. The plane hit the water. The skipper had tried to bail out but he was too low.


One ensign did bail out. He was picked up by a Japanese destroyer. He was interrogated, according to testimony from the war crimes commission, then executed. According to the war crimes commission there were six Japanese sailors who claimed to have seen American airmen on thier ships or in the water near them. Childers believes that the Japanese had a standing orders to take no prisoners. This really upset him when he read about it years later.When they were on their run in they had to chase the carrier. They never made it. Corl lost elevator control and the plane kept nosing down. Even though Childers didn't tell Corl, they had been hit by a 20 milimeter in the port side elevator.Corl told his crewmen that they weren't going to make it. They dumped their torpedo. None of the Zeros came after them. Childers was on the lookout for airplanes. Corl turned the plane to the right. Once they had cleared the antiaircraft fire Childers looked down and was looking into the eyes of a Japanese pilot. Childers stood up in the cockpit. He put the pipper on the Japanese pilots face and opened fire. That was the last he saw of the plane.After they left the carriers the Japanese fighters started going after them. They attacked in two plane elements. Childers tried to guess when the Japanese plane would fire. At that time Childers would open fire. The enemy planes changed their tactics and so did he. Finally, the Japanese got a hit on his' engine.The engine was running very bad. When the Zeros had attacked them Childers had been hit in the left thigh. The wound didn't hurt and he didn't think it was serious. Another bullet hit him in the ankle, shattering the bones. This wound hurt.


The next bad thing to happen was when Childers tried to fire at a Zero [Annotator's Note: Japanese fighter aircraft], his guns quit. He had fired a very long burst at a passing Zero but didn't hit him.Childers tried to clear the jam but couldn't. When he saw more Zeros heading at him, he pulled his .45 out and fired it at the enemy planes. It made him feel better.Childers looked out and saw Bill Esders' [Annotator's Note: Wilhelm Esders] plane. Esders signaled Childers asking if the CB was working. He indicated that it was not. Esders engine was still working fine so he took off.When Esders plane was alongside of Childers', Esders' radioman wouldn't look over at him. Later Childers heard that the man had been horribly wounded. Esders' plane finally ran out of fuel and he had to put it down in the water. After crashing the plane into the water, Esders inflated the life raft. Brazier [Annotator's Note: Robert B. Brazier] asked Esders not to move him because it hurt so bad but Esders had to get him into the raft. After getting Brazier into the raft, he died.Harry Corl flew in the direction that the Yorktown should have been but she wasn't there. He then flew to where she was before and found her dead in the water.They couldn't land on the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown, CV5]. Childers vision was getting bad. He couldn't see all of the men crowding the flight deck on Yorktown. Corl then headed for the Enterprise. Childers was very groggy when Corl told the crew to prepare to hit the water.When the plane hit the water a gunnery officer abord the ship they had crashed next to took a picture of it.Childers got out of the plane. Corl was trying to get the life raft out but couldn't. He saw that the ship near them had put a whale boat in the water to pick them up.Childers tried to swim but couldn't. Corl grabbed him by his Mae West life preserver and started towing him. When the whale boat arrived they pulled him up into the boat.The boat happened to have a doctor aboard and Childers was his first patient. The ship was probably the only destroyer in the Pacific fleet with a doctor aboard.


Childers was placed in a basket and hoisted onto the deck of the destroyer that had picked him and his crew up. He was taken into the officers wardroom and placed on the table. A chief corpsman came in looking for his dog tags so he could find out his blood type. Childers had paper dog tags in his flight jacket.Childers was given a lot of morphine. The doctor administered sodium pentathol. He passed out and when he came too he was having problems.The next day he told the chief corpsman that he needed a urinal. He couldn't go so he asked the chief to stand him up. They did and he went.Childers was staying in Lieutenant Kait's, the ship's gunnery officer, stateroom. The Lieutenant had given up his quarters so he could have a decent sick bay.Years later Childers came across a photo in a magazine of a Captain Kait who had served aboard the Monaghan [Annotator's Note: USS Monaghan, DD-354] during world war II. Childers made contact with the captain. A few days later the captain died.The destroyer made it back to Pearl Harbor. Childers' brother went to the hospital. He asked his brother how many other guys made it. His brother told him that none had survived. Of the torpedo planes only Ensign Gay [Annotator's Note: Ensign George Gay] and the crew of a plane from Torpedo 6 that had gotten lost. The crew had been in their life boat for a couple of weeks.The air group from the Hornet [Annotator's Note: USS Hornet, CV-8] missed the Japanese fleet. The group leader was a Commander. The Commander was a good officer but not a good aviator.Childers was a flight instructor at Pensacola in the 1950s. They would wash out the students that just couldn't make it. He feels that the Commander who led the Hornet's air group should have been washed out.


The navy commander leading the Hornet's [Annotator's Note: USS Hornet, CV-8] air group was responsible for the deaths of many airmen because he was inept.After the war the Commander took a flight out of Pensacola. He led the group out over the Gulf of Mexico and had to be led back to base by a young ensign.Childers spent four months in the hospital at Mare Island. He was then sent to the Receiving Station before he was healed enough. He was assigned as an SP [Annotator's Note: Shore Patrol - navy Military Police] to the Bay Bridge. At the end of his shift his leg was terribly swollen.Childers went to see a friend in the pay office. His friend called in the paymaster and showed the warrant officer Childers' leg. The officer asked him if he could type. When he replied in the positive the officer had him assigned to the pay office.Childers began flight school just before Christmas 1942. He still wasn't in very good shape. After being sworn in he went to the senior medical officer and informed him of his condition. The commander looked at Childers' legs. One of his wounds was healed but the other wasn't.Instead of 'washing out' Childers was given a special training program. After his daily exercises he had to soak his leg and have it rubbed down by a corpsman.Childers never asked for any special treatment. He did whatever the other cadets did. His leg was checked at flight physicals every year for the next 26 years.When he completed flight school he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. One of the reasons he changed branches is because a friend of his was a navy chief with 19 years in the navy and 19 years of sea duty. The chief never got to see his family.Another reason was a rumor that the Marine Corps was going to get P-38s and B-25s. They did get B-25s and that is what Childers ended up in.Childers knew he would have no problems getting into the Marine Corps. The commandant of cadets was a Marine Lieutenant Colonel named Richard Mangrum. Mangrum had landed the first squadron on Guadalcanal.


While Childers was a cadet he was asked by Colonel Mangrum if he had received a Purple Heart. When he told Mangrum that he had not, the colonel saw to it that he got the decoration. Childers states the Purple Heart was strictly an army decoration until 1943.He was to be awarded his Purple Heart at the next cadet formation. Major Wapell, the second senior Marine officer, was to get a second Navy Cross. The major was killed in a plane crash. The major was with a flight of about 18 SBDs [Annotator's note: SBD Dauntless dive bombers] flying into San Diego when the weather was bad and all of the planes in the group crashed.Childers applied for a regular commission. He was interviewed by three full colonels. His combat in the navy got him in. He was given a regular commission.Childers was promoted to major while he was an instructor at Pensacola. He was told that he would never make Lieutenant Colonel unless he got a degree. He took classes in his off time.He applied for the Boot Strap degree program. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.He completed his degree at University of Nebraska at Omaha. He completed his courses in nine months. Then he went to the staff and command school at Quantico. Just before leaving he and his wife were rear ended by a truck and both banged up pretty bad.Childers was assigned to a night fighter squadron and flew Corsairs in Korea. Then he went to El Toro and took over command of a helicopter squadron and sent to Vietnam. It was the high point of his career.Childers' goal was to spend one year in Vietnam without loosing a Marine. He almost made it. A crew chief was killed and 19 men were wounded.Prior to shipping out Childers asked his pilots if any had any combat experience. None had any but him. He felt even more responsible for his men.The only time Childers ever turned over control of his squadron he thought the entire squadron would be shot down.


Childers was then assigned to Ft. Rucker, Alabama. Childers though that Ft. Rucker would be good duty but it wasn't. He decided he was through. He knew that if he made full colonel he would be assigned to a desk and that wasn't for him.He had completed his master's degree at Ft. Rucker. He got a job with an aircraft company. He knew that he needed some career training. He went to the University of North Texas and got his PhD in College Administration.Childers spoke to the graduate dean and the department head who both encouraged him. The graduate dean was an Air Force Reserve officer and he liked to talk to Childers about airplanes.Childers spent almost three years working on his PhD. He had passed his qualifying exams. One of Childers' instructors was retired but continued to teach him.He had to go around and check with all of the new instructors that had replaced the ones he had taken classes with before his defense of his dissertation. One gave him a very hard time but he got his PhD.Childers went to work for a college in California where he stayed for 16 years. First he went to Texas A&M University to talk to the president who was a retired military officer. He didn't want to deal with the anti-military mood at North Texas.Childers moved to the San Diego area in 1972.


After he retired he played golf. He still lives in California.Childers experienced the big earthquake of 1989.

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