At three years old, Philip Riddle of North Fort Myers. Fla. was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He was wounded by a stray .50-caliber machine -gun bullet when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 catapulting the United States into World War II.
“My father was serving at the naval radio station in Hawaii. When he retired in 1958, after 30 years in the Navy, he was a 1st Class Radio Operator, an E-6,” the 77-year-old North Fort Myers resident recalled.
“Our family was living in new naval housing across from Ford Island and ‘Battleship Row.’ When the Japs attacked only Mom and I were home at the time,” Riddle said. “It was a typical quiet Sunday morning. We were justing getting up when there were a lot of explosions outside. At first my Mom thought it was another realistic drill.
“We looked out my bedroom window on the second floor of our duplex apartment. We could see the ships moored at Ford Island shooting at the Japanese planes,” he said.
“My Mom was getting me dressed. I was all dressed but for my shoes and socks. She sat me on my bed and turned around to get a pair of socks out of my chest of drawers,” Riddle remembered 75 years later. “At that instant a bullet came through the roof and hit my left leg. The bullet would have killed my Mom if it had come a few seconds earlier.
“I don’t remember a lot after that, but my Mom told me she grabbed me up and carried me out the front door of our apartment. They had just laid sod out front and had it cordoned off with string between stakes in the ground.
“My leg was bleeding profusely as Mom came out with me in her arms. A man walking down the sidewalk took one look at me and told my Mom to put me down. He grabbed a bit of string strung between front yard stakes and used it as a tourniquet to stop my leg from bleeding.
“He told my Mom he would go and get help. We never saw him again,” Riddle remembered. “Next came a Navy chaplain driving by in his car. He stopped, grabbed Mom and me and took us to a nearby hospital facility on base not too far from the naval shipyard.
“For some reason I remember the part in the hospital. I was lying on a blanket on a stretcher in the hallway. I recall someone holding a sponge and squeezing some kind of orange-colored disinfectant on my leg. They stopped the bleeding and bandaged my leg.
“Then they told Mom to take me home, give me a couple of aspirin and they’d see me in the morning,“ he said. “They had much more seriously injured Naval personnel who were desperate to be taken care of that moment. They had to get those sailors treated first.
“Mom took me home and laid me down on my bed upstairs. I was lying there looking up and there was the bullet hole in the roof. I could see the sky outside. That’s were the pain had come from, the bullet hole in the roof.
“I went nuts. She had to take me down stairs and put me to bed on the living room couch. I never went upstairs to bed again I slept on the couch,” Riddle said.
“The next thing I remember, it’s night and everything is dark outside. I’m lying on the couch and someone knocks on our front door. By then my aunt, who was married to my uncle a machinest-mate aboard the Battleship Oklahoma, had taken over for Mom that night.
“My aunt opened the door and there was a guy standing there in a dark, double-breasted suit, white shirt and tie with a fedora on his head. Nobody in Hawaii dressed like that,” Riddle said. “He told my aunt he was from the FBI and he was collecting evidence on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Then he says to her, ‘I understand there was a casualty from the attack living here?’
“‘Yes,’ she said and points to me lying on the couch with my leg bandaged up.
“‘Where did it happen?’ the FBI agent wanted to know. “She told him, ‘In my upstairs bedroom.’ He asked permission to go up to my bedroom and look around.
“A few minutes later he returns with this .50-caliber bullet in his hand. It was the bullet that punched a hole in our roof and hit me in the leg. He gave my aunt a receipt for the bullet, thanked her and left.
“The next day Mom and I went back to the Naval hospital on base and they put a cast on my injured leg. I have a picture of me and my grandfather, Ed Young, at his home in San Pedro, Calif. I’m sitting on a scooter he made for me to support my cast-covered leg. I was 3-years and 10-months old at the time.
“Twenty years later, in 1960 when I married the first time, my aunt presented me with a ‘Special Wedding Present.’ the evening before my wedding. The FBI tracked her down years later and returned the bullet to her the agent had discovered in my bedroom at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941,” she said. “The accompanying note from the FBI said they had competed their investigation and had no further use for the bullet and so they were returning it to her.
“The one thing you need to know about that bullet, it wasn’t a Jap bullet, it was a .50-caliber bullet I think it was from one of our ships docked at Ford Island,” Riddle said.
“I graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy in California in 1959. I agreed to accept a Navy commission when I graduated. I told the Navy I didn’t care where they sent me as long as it wan’t Pearl Harbor. I never wanted to go back there,” he explained.
“Sure enough, I ended up on a small tanker sailing out of Pearl.”
In 1963 Riddle volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was sent there the next year as an advisor.
He became the Military Navy Transport Officer for Southeast Asia working out of Saigon. Shortly after he arrived they had the ‘Tonkin Gulf Incident’ which began the war for the Americans in Vietnam.
Riddle made three tours of duty in Vietnam during his 10 years of service in the Navy. In 1970 he got out. In civilian life he took the G.I. Bill, went to collage and graduated with a degree in finance. For much of his life he was a real estate broker who worked in the San Diego, Calif. area.
He and his current wife, Susan, retired and came to Florida in 2012. Riddle has a son, Bill, from his previous marriage who works for Boeing Aircraft Corp.
Name: Phillip Edward Riddle
D.O.B.: 4 Feb. 1938
Hometown: San Pedro, Calif.
Currently: North Fort Myers, Fla.
Entered Service: 10 May 1960
Discharged: 30 June 1970
Rank: Navy Lieutenant
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Antarcartic Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Unit Commendation Meal, Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Vietnam Service Medal with three stars.
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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