When the Japanese bombed America’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor shortly before 8 a.m., Dec. 7, 1941 “Bud” Whitney was a 19-year-old electrician’s helper working at the Navy Yard in Pearl. He had dropped out of high school, taken a civil service exam and agreed to go to Hawaii to work as a civilian with his father, Lawrence, who was also working as an electrician at the yard.
Soon 94 on July 2, and living in Royal Palm Retirement Centre in Port Charlotte, Fla. the World War II survivor remembers the first battle of the war for the U.S. like it was yesterday.
“I arrived at Pearl Harbor six days before the Japanese attack. My father and I were sharing a small house and working as electricians at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for the Bureau of Yards and Docks,” he said. “That Sunday morning before the attack I was home writing a letter to my mom. My dad had already gone to work at the docks.
“I saw an airplane fly by the house we were living in but I didn’t pay it any attention. Then I heard this rumbling in the background. A few minutes later a gentleman, who was taking me to work, came and got me. He said we had been called back to the shop immediately, but he didn’t know why,” Whitney recalled 75 years later.
“When we got back to the shop I think I saw the last of the Japanese planes flying over the mountains back to the carriers,” he said. “We still didn’t know what was up, all we were sure of was it was a disaster of some sort.
“Electronic Machine Shop-51 was a typical metal building located 75 yards in front of the Number One Dry Dock at Pearl. At the time the battleship USS Pennsylvania was sitting in the marine ways. She had been hit by a Japanese bomb.
“When the Japanese arrived my father was waiting for them to put up the American flag. He was standing at the top of the dry dock next to the Pennsylvania when they first started dropping their bombs. He wasn’t hit in the attack, but it scared the hell out of him,” Bud recalled a lifetime later.
There was mass confusion by the time Bud and his driver friend arrive at the machine shop. Since he was the new kid on the block he was told by one old salt that he would be his helper. He spent the day being his gopher. He wasn’t involved in any of the rescue operations.
“All of the bay was burning from the oil that had leaked out of the ships damaged in the attack,” he said. “I consider myself fortunate because I didn’t see any dead people after the attack.
“On Wednesday, three days after the attack, they sent me out to the Battleship West Virginia. She had been sunk along the Ford Island dockside by the Japanese bombers,” he recalled. “My job was to salvage as much of the electronic equipment aboard the ship as I could.
“The only electrical equipment aboard the West Virginia worth salvaging was the big radar antenna. They sent me back to the battleship with a rigging crew that took the antenna off the ship.”
Despite the fact the Japanese attack badly damaged most of the battleships in the US Pacific Fleet, before war’s end the Navy salvaged six of the eight dreadnoughts and sent them back to sea. Only the Arizona and the Oklahoma never got back in the fight. The Arizona is one of this nation’s primary World War II memorials and the Oklahoma was cut up for scrap after being raised from the bottom of the bay.
For the next 2 1/2 years Bud worked as an electrician equipping or fixing the radar, radio or SONAR equipment aboard many naval vessels. He tried on several occasions to join the Navy, but because Hawaii was a protectorate and not a state he couldn’t sign up without returning to the Boston Naval Yard he said.
The day before he was to take a luxury liner from Honolulu to San Francisco, sign up for the Navy and get a similar job in the Boston Navy Yard, the “West Loch Disaster” occurred at Pearl Harbor. It was May 21, 1944 when a half dozen LSTs, landing ships whose bow doors could be opened once they reached an enemy beach, blew up.
The explosion claimed the lives of 163 sailors and another 396 were injured in the blast. Initially the Navy thought it was the work of saboteurs and tired to hush it up. There was only a very small paragraph or two on a back page of the Honolulu Star Bulletin and nothing in papers on the U.S. mainland.
“I was working on the Battleship Colorado when things started blowing up at West Loch,” Bud said. “It has only been in recent years the Navy has disclosed what apparently happened at West Loch. They believe the blast that damaged the LSTs may have been caused by someone using a welding unit and started a fire aboard ship or the cause could have been as simple as a discarded cigarette butt.”
Three-and-a-half days after he stepped aboard the ocean liner in Honolulu headed for home he was sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He arrived in California on June 6, 1944— “D-Day,” when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France.
“The ship was going like hell and vibrating every step of the way. Then I took a slow train from San Francisco back to Boston. It took us three or four days to reach the East Coast.”
Bud spent most of the rest of the war installing electronic equipment on dozens of other Navy ships. It was late July or Aug 1945 when he and 1,200 other guys went aboard a troop transport and took a Pacific cruise. At one point in their wanderings they landed at Okinawa, long after the battle was over.
“The CBs were building a beautiful Quonset hut village on the island. Just about the time they finished the job the island was struck by a huge typhoon that blew for three days. When it was over the Quonset village was wiped out,” he said.
After being discharged from the Navy as an Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class, Bud went to work for Plymouth County Electrical Co., a small supplier of home power outside Boston. He retired from the company after 38 years and moved to Venice and then Port Charlotte.
His wife has passed, but he has two grown daughters: Lynne and Susan. Lynne lives locally and Susan lives out of state.
Name: Irving McFarlan “Bud” Whitney
D.O.B: 2 July 1922
Hometown: Duxbury, Mass.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 8 Aug 1944
Discharged: 16 Nov. 1945
Rank: Electrician’s Mate 2/C
Unit: U.S. Navy Repair Base Pearl Harbor
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal, American Area Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon
OFFICE OF THE COMMANDANT
FOURTEENTH NAVAL DISTRICT
NAVY YARD, PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII, USA
15 March 1942
From: Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District
To: Edwin I. Adolphson, Master Electrician,
Via: Comandant, Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, T.H.
1. The Commandant takes great pleasure in awarding you the following citation commending you for your conduct on the 7th of December, 1941 and desires that a copy of this citation be given to each employe of your shop who was present on the morning of December 7th, 1941, and that a copy be filed with each employee’s records:
For most efficient action and unusual presence of mind on your part and that of the personnel of your shop during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 19421 in handling all emergencies or rescue work that came to your attention in a calm, cool and outstanding manner.
From: Commandant, Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor
Delivered to: Irving M Whitney, Helper Electrician
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 27, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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