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Robert Lee PorterRobert Lee Porter

Dickens, Texas

After graduation from Patton Springs in 1939, at loose ends I headed west to look for work and visit relatives at Albuquerque, New Mexico. I remember my cousin, Hoot Littlefield telling me, "Bob you just as well go ahead and join up!" On December, 17th, 1940 I enlisted in the Navy.

January 15th, 1941 I left Albuquerque on a train headed for Denver, Colorado where I was sworn in two days later. We then rode the train to San Diego, California where I spent three months in boot camp training. We left the Naval Training Center on April 15th headed to San Francisco to catch a troop ship for Pearl Harbor. This excursion took about eleven days. Arriving in Pearl Harbor (on the island of Oahu) I was awed by the beautiful country, "A Tropical Paradise". We were carried to the receiving station and after two weeks I was assigned to Ford Island Naval Air Station. After spending six weeks on work detail I was assigned to public works department which consisted of vehicle maintenance and transportation on the island. My duty at this station was driving a crash truck picking up crashed airplanes. This would be my job and my home for the next eighteen months.

On Sunday morning, December 7th 1941, high clouds lingered over the Koolau mountain range to the east. As the tropical heat rose the clouds retreated, promising to be a relaxing day in Paradise. Nests of battleships bobbed together in the harbor not more than a 100 yards from my barrack. The "heart of the fleet" was known as "Battleship Row". The NEVADA occupied the first berth, followed by the MARYLAND along side the OKLAHOMA. In the last berth was the CALIFORNIA.

Unknown to me as I slept in my bunk, first call to colors was sounding on the NEVADA with the flags going up as the band on deck played the Star Spangled Banner. The buzzing planes overhead went unnoticed but before they finished playing, the first bombs began to fall on Ford Island sea plane ramp.

The explosions rocked me from my bunk and into action at 7:55 a.m. Surprised, we scrambled up, struggling into our clothes and reported to the administration building on the other end of the island to receive our orders. As we went we could see planes dropping bombs and torpedoes in the bay area and hitting our ships which were returning fire with what guns were readily manned at that time. This lasted about thirty minutes and then a fifteen minute lull as the Japanese planes regrouped. Ships' klaxons sounded all over the harbor, mixed with the wail of air raid sirens from nearby airfields. Smoke from fires and spray from near misses obscured the sights of gunners bringing their mounts into action. During this time we were ordered to dispense personnel and carry ammunition and small arms machine guns to different areas around the island.

Detroit Ship ImageUtah Ship ImageTangier Ship Image

Hard on the heels of the first, came the second wave of attack which lasted an hour and a half. By this time the northern end of "Battleship Row" was obscured by the blaze and thick oily smoke from the ARIZONA. A short time later she erupted in a ball of flame. WEST VIRGINIA had taken several torpedo hits and was sinking. OKLAHOMA had turned turtle, trapping many inside. Smoke was rising from the TENNESSEE and MARYLAND. The CALIFORNIA burned steadily and was sinking. The NEVADA made a run for the bay but had been heavily hit and ran ashore. We gazed in shock at "Battleship Row". As the ammunition boxes exploded it felt like a hot blast of wind in our face. Great columns of smoke billowed skyward and the whole bay area seemed to be aflame. A sheet of flames rode a slick of fuel oil covering the waters all around the ships that were sunk and damaged. Boys were coming off those ships trying to get to shore through the burning waters. We were standing on the shore trying to pull them out. Some so badly burned, the skin was peeling from their bodies. I made several trips carrying two at a time in the back of my pickup, covering them with blankets and taking them to first aid stations for treatment, then they were taken by way of ferry to hospitals on the main island.

A total blackout was ordered for the night (this continued for the rest of the time I was there). We were in the mess hall for sandwiches by candlelight when we heard planes coming in. We had received no message of the incoming planes and opened fire on them presuming them to be the enemy. Several of our own planes were lost. This was a carrier group from out at sea, which would have been in port at the time of attack but bad weather had prevented them from getting in. According to maps found later in the Japanese planes that were shot down, these carriers as well as the battle ships in harbor had been designated with red dots to be bombed.

And so in the darkness, the desperate day finally ended!
Arizona Ship Image

Note: That dark day in Pearl Harbor set the stage for the next six years of Bob's life. Days filled with anxiety and fear, days on end without touching shore, through battles and treacherous storms, not knowing what the next day would hold or whether it would come at all in this young man's life. TC

Newspaper headlinesWith the dawning of a new day, rescue operations began for the men trapped in the battleships that were capsized. Many were found in watertight compartments still alive three days later, 2,403 lives were lost that day. A memorial stands today over the ARIZONA for the 1,177 men lost on her, of which over 800 are still entombed in the ship.

In the days ahead it was a cleanup operation as well as trying to get organized to have some kind of readiness in the Pearl Harbor area. Even though we were caught unprepared, a total of twenty nine Japanese fighter planes were shot down. I vividly remember while operating a crane and pulling them from the water, observing several of the pilots that were still in the planes, wearing University of Hawaii rings which was a good indication that they knew the area well.

In the weeks to come we received the necessary supplies to start building back our defense at Pearl Harbor. Throughout the rest of my tour at Ford Island Naval Air Station we assembled vehicles and other equipment. It was at this time that I applied for ship construction in order to get to come back to the main land.

After twenty months at Pearl Harbor, I received my orders to go to Charleston, South Carolina and was assigned to the destroyer USS Bell DD587. After being put in commission we made trial runs going in and out of Newfoundland, Canada and shake down crews (making it ready for battle) for a period of six weeks. We escorted tankers and supply ships across the Atlantic to England and back for a period of three weeks. We were then in the shipyard at Boston, Mass. for three weeks for structure work on the ship.

We received orders to join a carrier group in the South Pacific, going by way of Panama Canal. There, we were in a task group escorting the aircraft carrier groups who were striking the Japanese held islands. Part of our job was picking up downed pilots in the sea. During this time Iwa Jima was bombarded by air attacks, battleships and destroyers for three days before troops were sent ashore. To our ship's credit we had five confirmed Japanese planes shot down and two sinking of submarines.

After fourteen months of high speed carrier strikes across the Pacific, our ship was in bad need of repairs. We received orders to report back to the shipyard at Bremington, WA for repairs. Here we were given a thirty day leave and this old boy was ready to take a long train ride to get to go home. This was around the end of 1944 or first of 1945. After repairs on our ship were completed we were ordered back to the Pacific operating with another battle group taking back the islands from the Japanese, In the Philippine Island area we were hitting Japanese held territory and I was about to experience one of the worst times of the war. For three days and nights we were in the grasp of a Typhoon, not knowing from one minute to the next if we would survive. We ate very little and when we had to sleep we tied ourselves in our bunk. Three destroyers were lost, with the loss of all men in one of these.

It was getting close to the end of the war and we had been operating in the South China Sea for a period of six months. We were on our way to Okinawa (where the heat of the battle was) to intercept Japanese air strikes from the main islands of Japan against our troops invading Okinawa. It was at this time we dropped the atomic bomb on Hirashima. Two days later Nagisaki was leveled by the second atomic bomb and Japan offered to surrender. This was August, 1945. The next few months were spent patrolling the Sea of Japan and mine sweeping the area. We then returned to the States at San Diego, California where the ship was put of of commission. I heard years later that our ship and others were carried to sea and used for bomb targets.

With six months remaining, I was sent back to Guam to finish my tour of duty and we weren't very happy about this. We were relieving men that were being discharged and had been in a much shorter time. This is probably one of the reasons I didn't re-enlist.

Note: On January 22, 1946, in San Francisco, CA, Bob received an Honorable Discharge as a Gunner's Mate First class with several metals to his credit. Fifty-one years later, my Uncle Bob of whom I am so very proud, is one of a dozen South Plains Pearl Harbor Survivors. At the age of 77 years, he is very active in his community. He has been the mayor of the City of Dickens for the last five years. He serves on the Patton Springs School Board and has for the past ten years. He is very involved in the activities of this exemplary school where he graduated some 58 years ago.

Uncle Bob, I salute you for the contributions you have made to our county and our Country.

Written and submitted by Tookie Cash, Niece of Bob Porter.

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