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One survivor's tale of 'Day of Infamy'

By Cpl. Molly King | | December 6, 2001

The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor turned many young Americans into heroes and transformed a young nation into a contender among long-established world powers.

Survivors of that fateful morning will claim they were not heroes, but rather just average Americans doing what anyone would do. Most people, however, will describe them as much more: survivors, living monuments, inspirations and mentors.

One such living monument is Navy Capt. David L. G. King (Ret.).
Born in 1918, King graduated from the Naval Academy in 1940, just in time to sail into history.

Ensign King reported to his first ship, the USS Helena, docked at the Brooklyn Shipyard, N.Y. In the fall of 1940 the USS Helena traveled through the Panama Canal to join the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

At the time of the attack King was serving in the gunnery division as a division officer in charge of 1.1 inch anti-aircraft gun batteries.

The morning of Dec. 7, King began his day as usual.

"I was up and eating in the ward room when the general alarm sounded that 'The Japanese are attacking, no drill,'" said King.

At the same time the USS Helena was hit by the Japanese, and he recalled that not all the men were as lucky as he was.

"The men who were standing in the passageway waiting to get their breakfast, most of them were burned. At that time I realized we were hit by a torpedo," he said.

When asked what crossed his mind at this time, King said, "you just didn't think - it was instinctive to go to your battle stations, and that's what we did."

"When I went to my battle station my gunner's mate was already there and we began to break into the ready ammunition supply," said King.

When the captain came by he sternly asked the men why they were breaking in instead of obtaining the key from the armory down below decks. Since the ship was drawing water from the torpedo hit and the men needed ammunition right away, King remembered seeing humor in the captain's nonsensical query.

"We broke out the ammunition and manned the anti-aircraft gun right away," he said. "We fired at the horizontal bombers above but never came close to them."

Then the dive-bombers came, said King.

"We fired at those and hit one that landed near the quarters at Hospital Point. One of the bombers just barely missed the Helena, but didn't hit," he said. "That was really the only action we or anyone else saw that day."

King vividly recalled the sights around him as he fired on the enemy.
"I saw on Battleship Row ships on fire, smoke and a lot of oil, and one battle ship was completely turned over - it was the Oklahoma," he said.
"At the sight of it I thought that it was impossible because at the Naval Academy they told us battleships were unsinkable."

As he looked on he witnessed a bomb hit the USS Shaw.

"When the bomb hit you could see the men on board fly up in the air, above the ship, and fall back down," said King.

Then the Ogala began to sink, King said.

"The Ogala was moored next to us. The torpedo that hit the Helena went under the Ogala, but the explosion from the Helena split the seams of the Ogala," he said. "The Captain told the crew to cut the lines to the Ogala to keep it from pulling the damaged Helena over. An Admiral ordered the Captain not to cut the lines but he did it anyway and the Ogala sank soon after."

After a few hours there were no more planes and the attack was obviously over, said King.

"The battle was fought by junior officers and the crew," said King. "Most of the senior officers were ashore when the attack began and weren't able to get on the ships until afterwards."

According to King, the bravery shown that morning did not bring many tangible results.

"The Helena's guns along with all the other batteries of ships in the harbor fired a lot that day, but hit very little," he remembered.

"I think some of the real heroes of Pearl Harbor were the tugs that pushed the oil back away from the harbor and base. If the oil had spread and the fire weren't put out, the harbor would not have been serviceable for the remainder of the war in the Pacific."

King survived the events of that terrible day in history and went on to marry his wife, Helen, who he met in San Francisco that same winter, while repairs were underway on the USS Helena.

"I heard you could get free passes to the Golden Gate Bridge in the Commandant's office," said King. "There was a little redheaded girl there giving out the passes and that was Helen. We were married in April 1942 and I left San Francisco in June for the Pacific."

From there, King fought for Guadalcanal, survived the sinking of the USS Helena, and continued to serve in the Pacific on the USS Houston.

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