Pearl Harbor remembered

By: 
Sylvia Ray
Staff Writer

When Catawbans awoke Thursday to news of a shooting on the Navy base at Pearl Harbor leaving three dead, including the perpetrator, a uniformed sailor from a submarine, we and all Americans immediately thought of the 78th anniversary today of the December 7, 1941, attack by Japanese aircraft that started World War II.

I recalled the late Coyte A. Wike of Catawba, who was at Pearl Harbor that historic Sunday morning and who over the decades shared his story of the attack, which he, fortunately, survived.

The cattle, grain, and timber farmer was in World War II, Korea and Vietnam wars. He retired from a career in the Navy in 1967 with the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 and came home. 

He died in January of 2007. His tombstone in the Claremont town cemetery lists his medals and military honors, including the distinguished Silver Star and two Bronze Stars. 

That Sunday morning he was a 1st Class Gunner’s Mate on the light cruiser US Honolulu, based at Pearl Harbor, just outside the namesake city. Early in the morning he was below deck, making sure the sailors were awake before he was to leave as planned to go ashore and meet up with his cousin, another Catawba area young man, and go apartment hunting so his cousin could bring his wife and young child there to live in Honolulu from their residence in California. 

They never got to the dock or the city. At 7:50 AM while he was rousing the sailors a general alarm sounded; he knew no drills were planned for that Sunday morning. He later recounted that he dove into his first duty, retrieving the keys to unlock the door to the ammunition magazine. He was in charge of firing one of the port five-inch guns.

On his way to the captain’s cabin to get the keys he popped his head through an open hatch and saw the Japanese planes cresting over the nearby mountains. There was a formation of 8 to 10 planes.

Years later he could still recall: “I knew it was the Japanese. You could see their red balls on the fuselages… We knew what it was and we were in for the long-haul.”

He and his crew began firing; all around them bombs and torpedoes exploded and anti-aircraft fire rattled and pounded. He was too focused on feeding ammunition to register most of it.

About 45 minutes into the historic attack, one of his cruise 5 inch shells burst near a Japanese dive bomber, which abruptly dropped its bomb. Years later he explained that was a good thing in one sense; it was one bomb that wouldn’t strike any of our battleships, the main targets.

But it blew, maybe 15 feet from the hole of the ship’s port side. A few minutes later Wike got a call from four decks down: “I’d better come down there; oil and smoke were coming from the magazine.” It was Wike’s job to operate the flooding system when necessary. He opened a valve by hand and flooded the magazine. “I knew there was nothing to do but flood it or I wouldn’t have come back up.”

His cousin, Paul Hedrick, like Coyte, was from Oxford community north of Catawba, and he, tragically, was assigned to the USS Arizona, the never-to-be-forgotten battleship that rests beneath the waves alongside the special observatory at Pearl Harbor which our government has provided.

Coyte noted that the Arizona exploded a few minutes after 8 a.m. and burned for two days. The ship’s death toll was 1,177 sailors. Coyte told family and friends later,”I knew that was the end of him. There was no surfing that.” The two young men were to have met at 8:30 on the deck of the Arizona.

The Arizona now has a structure built over its sunken hull which is the tomb of its victims and is a national memorial site visited by thousands of Americans each year. 

In all, 2,403 lives were abruptly ended that morning during 45 minutes of the attack. 

Another local young man killed in the Arizona was Julius Glenn Carpenter of Claremont. 

Jimmy Glenn of Hickory was a survivor of Pearl Harbor. 

North Carolina contributed 360,000 mean and women to the war and about 9,000 died in the war. 

As late as 2006 the most revered entry in the parade which is the highlight of this county’s annual tribute to Catawba’s war veterans, the August Soldiers Reunion patriotic festival, was a simple pick-up truck on which the elderly local men who survived Pearl Harbor rode in wooden rocking chairs in the truck bed. 

The day after the attack of planes that flew from Japanese aircraft carrier ships and bombed the naval base, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. He proclaimed December 11, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy.”

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