Twenty, or so, years ago we completed a few small projects for a local retired gentleman and his wife. We met with them several times in their home to pick up and deliver things as a normal course of our work. On one visit I was told he had some experience as a woodworker and given a tour of his backyard woodshop. I complimented him on a nice setup, especially how clean it was.
As it turned out our shop, at the time, was on the route he used to go visit his grandchildren. Occasionally he would stop in to smell the sawdust and visit for a little while. On these visits I learned a little more about his woodworking experience. Turns out he enlisted in the Navy as a teenager just before World War II. His duties were in the woodworking shop in the belly of a ship stationed at Pearl Harbor.
During his visits to our shop we would hear little short bits of his history as it related to his time in the service, eventually finding out he was a Pearl Harbor survivor. At some point his family convinced him to put pen to paper and document his memories of that time. One day, in his modest way, he said “you wouldn’t want to read it would you”? I couldn’t wait until his next visit when he brought a booklet he had put together documenting his life in the Navy during WWII.
Reading this firsthand account of the attack on Pearl Harbor was unlike anything I have ever read. This was a biography of a man I knew as having raised his family locally, retired from a long career with the telephone company, enjoyed woodworking, loved his grandkids, and in most ways seemed to have lived a happy, normal life.
In reality he was much more. His wartime story starts out as a teenage boy joining the Navy, being assigned to a ship at Pearl Harbor. Then the unthinkable happens. As the attack unfolded his story tells of his ship being bombed, his swimming to shore through the burning oil on the water’s surface and surviving the rest of the attack. I don’t at this time remember which ship he was on, I need to follow up on that. After his ship was towed to Seattle for dry dock, he and the remainder of the crew were given liberty for a spell. There he met, and married, his wife of 60+ years. Once the ship was seaworthy, he left her with her parents and sailed back to the Pacific. At some point he lost his front teeth in an accident and spent the remainder of the war with no front teeth. There was no dentist on a ship at sea. Interestingly, his son grew up to become a dentist!
I’m leaving out many points in his story that don’t apply to today’s anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But on this day every year I remember Mr. Norwood and think about the men and women like him that played such a huge part in our country’s history. God bless all the men and women that gave us the ability to live free today.