Pearl Harbor Survivor Emphasizes Need for Vigilance
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2007 It’s been 66 years, and tears still well up in the eyes of Robert Bishop when he thinks of that day. (Video)
Robert Bishop stands outside the U.S. Capitol, where he and 13 other Pearl Harbor survivors and about 100 others including family, friends, servicemembers and members of Congress met for a remembrance ceremony sponsored by the White House Commission on Remembrance and the Pearl Harbor Memorial Fund in partnership with the AMVETS and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
He was a 20-year-old sailor aboard the USS Tennessee when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941. Some images are burned into his mind that he will never forget, he said.
“It was just an unbelievable sight. I couldn’t believe it. How could this thing happen? But it did,” Bishop said today outside the U.S. Capitol.
He had gathered with 13 other survivors and about 100 others including family, friends, servicemembers and members of Congress for a remembrance ceremony sponsored by the White House Commission on Remembrance and the Pearl Harbor Memorial Fund in partnership with the AMVETS and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. The event was synchronized and satellite-linked to a ceremony in Hawaii at the USS Arizona memorial.
During the attack, Bishop’s duty station was in the heart of the ship, preparing to fire the ship’s main battery of guns. For four hours, the horrors of that day were relayed through his radio.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing about ships blowing up, catching on fire, rolling over. It was about four hours later before I got to go topside to see what actually happened,” he said.
When he finally went topside, he couldn’t believe what he saw. Bishop said he doesn’t remember what he did the rest of that day.
Now, Bishop lives in Youngstown, Ohio, with his wife. At 87, he still works every day, getting up at 5 a.m. to put in eight hours working at a nearby steel mill, where he orders maintenance equipment.
Married for 65 years, Bishop jokes that he will retire when his wife quits getting up with him in the mornings and fixing his breakfast and packing his lunch.
The two meet on the third Saturday of every month with a local Pearl Harbor survivor chapter. It’s the reading of the official minutes and a meal, sometimes a game of cards. There were once about 22 members. Now there are about eight who come regularly, Doris said. They try to make it to the anniversary ceremonies held in Hawaii every five years. Other years, they attend a Pearl Harbor commemorative Mass near their home.
Bishop said it is important that Americans remember the attack at Pearl Harbor and not become overconfident or too secure.
“I think we need to be more alert. It seemed that most people thought that nothing like this could happen to us. But because we were not alert enough as a nation, it did happen. We need to know what’s going on around us,” Bishop said.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead spoke at the event and said that today’s military is stronger because of those who served then.
“Because of your example, your service, your sacrifice, we are stronger, we are better and we see the importance of a strong military to carry on that which you began: To ensure the safety and the security and the prosperity of our great country. To be able to go forward wherever it may be and serve our nation proudly as you did and to do that which is right and be mindful of that which has gone before, and be an example for the next generation that will follow us,” Roughead said. “We walk in your footsteps. We honor what you have done. We have the highest respect for your service and your sacrifice.”
The admiral, who once commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet based in Hawaii, said the harbor is hallowed ground for the Navy.
“In the 13 years that I was there sailing in and out of Pearl Harbor, commanding the fleet … I never stopped looking out on that harbor without a sense of awe, without a sense of great respect, without a sense of reverence. …The sacrifice, the service, the camaraderie that is embodied there is palpable,” Roughead said. “You feel it every day that you’re on the water.”
Pearl Harbor serves as a memorial for those who fought and died there, but it also is a source of inspiration for those still in uniform, he said.
“We draw our inspiration, we draw our strength, we draw our commitment from that which has gone on before. And there is no greater example than what took place that day in Pearl Harbor,” Roughead said.