December 06, 2001 11:00 pm

Editors note: The following story originally ran in The Observer on Dec. 7, 1998. The story has been updated.

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Glen Heryford did not feel fears icy fingers when he first saw Japanese fighter planes flying into Pearl Harbor on the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

The humble Army veteran says his absence of fear had nothing to do with courage.

At first I wasnt scared, I didnt know what was going on ... Later that day I got scared. Then I shook for weeks, said Heryford, who spent most of his life in Cove and now lives in La Grande.

Heryford was at Pearl Harbors Government Pier. When the Japanese fighter planes first appeared many people did not immediately recognize them.

I heard one person say, We better tell somebody they are flying in a restricted area. Then somebody said, Those are not our planes, Heryford said.

The air raid alarm then sounded and the thousands of men stationed at Pearl Harbor responded. Those who manned anti-aircraft gun stations included Island Citys Bill Tolles, who was aboard the USS Nevada, a battleship. He fought gallantly at a station which offered no protection.

I had no cover. If it had rained I could have gotten wet, Tolles said.

Tolles survived despite the fact that five bombs hit his ship and Japanese fighter planes, machine guns firing, continually zoomed at the ships deck attempting to kill its gunners.

The Nevada lost 76 of its approximately 1,200 men. Amazingly, Tolles escaped serious injury, although he suffered a leg burn which hospitalized him for a week. Tolles, who received a Purple Heart because of his injury, considered himself fortunate compared to those in a nearby ward for serious burn victims.

Many had burns over more than 75 percent of their bodies.

All they could do was put Vaseline over them and lay them on plastic and let them die, said Tolles, 80.

Many men were burned when they fell into water that was on fire. The only way to avoid the burning oil on the surface was to stay submerged.

You could drown or burn to death, Tolles said.

He never faced this choice, yet always feared for his life.

You always have time to be afraid, Tolles said. They can teach you to fight until death but they cant teach you not to be afraid ... If you were not afraid you were insane or a damned liar.

The fear factor was not helped by the fact that the USS Nevada and many other ships did not have the number of guns needed to successfully fend off the Japanese fighter planes.

We had nothing to fight with. They expected us to defend with our bodies, Tolles said.

This is perplexing in light of the fact that the ships were expected to soon enter battle.

Weeks before the attack an officer told us we were going to fight the Japanese soon. He said, It isnt a matter of if, it is a matter of when, Tolles said.

Despite this ominous prediction, conditions at the Pearl Harbor military base were lax during weekends. Most men were free following a Saturday inspection.

You could sleep all weekend if you wanted to since there was no reveille on Sunday, Tolles said.

Tolles and thousands of others were awakened on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, by the attack that started at 7:55 a.m. and involved 183 Japanese aircraft.

Emery Oliver, 89, of Summerville was aboard the USS Whitney, a repair ship, when planes started dropping bombs.

He first learned of the attack when someone opened a door to check out the sound of gunfire.

Someone said, Are they putting on a show for us? and then someone else said, No, those are Japanese planes, Oliver said.

Sweating profusely, Oliver hurriedly handed out ammunition for the duration of the battle.

The first attack lasted a half hour and was followed by a second, which started at 8:54 a.m. and involved 221 aircraft.

The battle could be heard 90 miles away on the island of Maui, according to Vern Yoshioka, a former La Grande resident who grew up in Hawaii.

Yoshioka, who wasnt born yet, said that his mother, Ruth, could tell that something was happening on the island of Oahu the morning of Dec. 7.

She said that it sounded like a severe thunder and lightning storm, said Yoshioka, noting that such storms are very unusual in Hawaii, particularly in the


Yoshioka is now the principal of South Ridge Elementary School in Ridgefield, Wash. He worked in the La Grande School District for 31 years before leaving to take his present position in 2000.

About 2,400 Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor and more than 1,100 were wounded.

The number of veterans alive today who survived the Pearl Harbor attack is not known. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association now has about 8,000 members. All American servicemen at or near Pearl Harbor during the attack are eligible to become members.

Heryford, 82, belongs to the association and has attended many meetings. He describes them as poignant since the bonds they shared are painful memories.

Some people dont talk much about it. When they get talking about it the tears come streaming down, said Heryford.

Heryford believes that the men who served at Pearl Harbor played a critical role. He explained that if the United States had not had a military presence in Hawaii the Japanese would have invaded.

A Hawaiian base would have given Japans military a tremendous strategic advantage.

The price of keeping Hawaii, in terms of lives lost at Pearl Harbor, is something Heryford will never get over.

It is hard on you. You never get over it, the La Grande veteran said. I dont know how many times I have been sitting around and Ill think of a friend who was hit.

The passage of 60 years has erased few of the painful


I cant do anything about it (the men killed and wounded). It will be hard on me until the day I die, Heryford said.