When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor shortly before 8 a.m., Dec. 7, 1941 George Hire was a Marine recovering from coral poisoning at the Naval Hospital. He was looking out the window while washing dishes and saw the first bomb hit the dry dock 100 yards from where he was standing.
“The Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital was in the center of the Navy Yard, across the canal from ‘Battleship Row.’ I was on duty that day in our ward and it was my turn to wash dishes,” the 91-year-old Punta Gorda Leatherneck recalled. “I knew what the plane was because I could see the big red sun on its side. I ran down to the beach in front of the hospital, with a couple of other guys from the ward to get a better look at what was happening. That wasn’t very smart.
“Right after the first bomb all the other Japanese planes came in with their bombs and bullets. Things were blowing up all over the place. They hit Ford Island, right beside us, to take out the American fighter planes,” he said.
“After the first wave of Japanese fighters attacked, then came a wave of torpedo bombers that concentrated on sinking all the battleships along ‘Battleship Row.’ I was about 100 yards away from the Battleship Arizona when it blew up,” he said. “It wasn’t the first big ship to explode. It blew up a little later than some of the other battleships.
“During the second wave attack a Japanese plane crashed right in front of us. I got hit in the shoe with a piece of shrapnel. It cut my shoe open and I lost my large toenail. That was the only injury I sustained during the attack,” Hire said.
Confusion reigned on the ground.
“Only two or three of our ships were throwing up a little fire against the Japanese planes with small caliber stuff and that was about it. All our ammunition had been confiscated and locked up,” he said. “In the middle of the attack I saw a one-man Japanese sub surface in the harbor. He must have gotten in trouble because the enemy sub beached next to the entrance to Pearl.
“There was more confusion after the bombing. There was no organized treatment for injured servicemen. Some of them swam across the channel then walked to the hospital,” Hire explained.
“It wasn’t long before the walking wounded started showing up at the hospital. I thought to myself, ‘Gee, they’re all black guys!’ The black was from the bunker-C oil they were covered in that coated everything in the harbor. “An announcement was made that everybody that was able should report back to his unit. I reported to the Marine Barracks at Pearl and they sent me back to my outfit, the 6th Defense Battalion, 1st Division, stationed at Midway Island by then (more than 1,000 miles from Pearl Harbor),” he said. “I spent six months with 1,000 other Marines at Midway preparing for a Japanese attack we knew was coming.”
Marines were preparing for war with the Japanese at Midway on a shoestring. They had a few 5-inch guns and some 90 millimeter anti-aircraft guns for protection. Hire spent most of his time in a dugout below ground operating a radio used to communicate with the outside world.
June 4, 1942 arrived and so did the Japanese Naval Air Force. Midway was actually two tiny islands about a mile or two long covered with Gooney Birds.
“A month before the Japanese showed up in force we were visited by several enemy submarines. They would surface at night, shoot a few rounds from their deck gun at us and submerge,” Hired said. “The idea was to keep us awake and jittery.
“When the attack came the Japanese planes bombed us pretty heavy. However, we sustained very few injuries even though the attack lasted three hours,” he said. “Japanese troops were put on landing crafts and sent toward shore, then all at once the landing was canceled and they returned to their ships off shore.”
The significance of the Battle of Midway to the Americans was it was the place where U.S. forces went on the offensive against the Japanese. In three days the emperor lost four of his mainline carriers off Midway to America’s Naval air power. They never went on the offensive again in the Pacific during World War II.
“For us Marines on the beach we knew nothing about the Naval battle until we caught a civilian broadcast on the radio,” Hire said. “That’s where we learned we won.
“It was at Midway I helped Cecil B. de Mille (the Hollywood director and producer) with his battle photography. Maybe I shouldn’t tell this part, but he took some cotton swabs, dipped them in motor oil, lit them and I held them in such a way the smoke was going across the American flag in the background while he was filming.”
A month later Hire and his outfit returned to Pearl Harbor, but they ended up in the Solomon Islands and took part in the New Guinea campaign. Allied forces eventually captured the Japanese-built air strip and named it Henderson Field. In doing so the Americans stopped the Japanese advance toward Australian and New Zealand.
By the time Hire reached the Russell Islands in the Pacific he was suffering from malaria, diarrhea and coral poisoning.
“I was so weak I wasn’t of any value to anybody. They flew me back to a hospital ship off the Solomon Islands and on to a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand. I eventually landed in a Naval hospital in Seattle, Wash. where I spent another month recuperating,” he said. “I was transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yard hospital and given a 30 day leave. After I got out of the hospital I spent the next three years working in the Navy Yard.”
The war was winding down but Hire was scheduled to take part in the Battle of Okinawa, the largest Pacific battle in World War II. By the time his unit was ready to head out to the war zone World War II ended and he and his division was sent to China to battle the Communists who were about to take over that country.
Hire joined the Marine Corps Reserve after the war, just in time for Korea. He spent a year in Korea in 1951 keeping the radios on Marine Corps Corsair F-4U fighter planes operational.
After 20 years in the Corps and the Reserve he retired from the service and went to work for RCA in electronics at the Cape Canaveral Missile Range in Florida. His final job was as a researcher with the Department of Defense working on lasers at the Cape.
He and his late wife, Margaret, retired to Florida in 1960s They have two children: Pat Moore of Punta Gorda and Ron Moore, who lives with his family in North Carolina
Name: George H. Hire
D.O.B: 31 March 1919*
Hometown: Waterloo, Indiana
Current: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: December 1938
Discharged: 1 September 1960
Rank: Master Sergeant
Unit: 6th Defense Battalion, 1st Division
Commendations: Navy Presidential Unit Citation (Three Stars), Asiatic-Pacific Theatre (Two Stars), Naval Unit Commendation, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, USMC Good Conduct Medal, China Service, National Defense Service Medal, World War II Service (Three Stars), Korean Medal, ROK War Service Citation.
Battles/Campaigns: Pearl Harbor, Midway, New Guinea, Solomon Island, Marshall Island, China, Korea
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Tuesday, December 7, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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George Tillman Hire, 93, of Punta Gorda, FL, died on May 14, 2012. Funeral arrangements by: Kays-Ponger & Uselton Funeral Home and Cremation Services.
Published in Herald Tribune from May 25 to May 26, 2012