In remembrance of Pearl Harbor, WWII veteran Harold Lowe remembers the day as if it were yesterday. His story is an important reminder of how a few brave men could change so much for the United States.
Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941 by the Japanese. The attack killed 2,335 people and caused a huge impact on the United States. The event is still remembered today because it led to America entering WWII.
The assaults on Pearl Harbor are commemorated for the 80th time this year.
SANTA MARGARITA — At 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter aircraft dropped bombs over the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, just outside of Honolulu, Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the assault, with 1,000 more injured. Over 300 aircraft and eight warships were sunk.
Furthermore, the assaults on Pearl Harbor ushered in a new phase of the European conflict. It drew the US into conflict with Japan and Germany, resulting in World War II (WWII).
The assault on Pearl Harbor will be commemorated for the 80th time this year. Harold Lowe, a Santa Margarita native and inhabitant, has vivid recollections of Pearl Harbor, even at the age of 102.
We’re going to get through this together, Atascadero
When I arrived to Lowe’s house in Santa Margarita and asked if he’d like to share some old war experiences with me, his face lighted up with delight.
Lowe was seated in his quarters in Fort Lews, Washington, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, approximately 9:00 a.m., reading the newspaper.
More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the assault, with 1,000 more injured. Over 300 aircraft and eight warships were sunk. Photo by a contributor
“All of a sudden here comes Corporal down the stairs saying, ‘Get your clothes on and out of bed, we’re at war!’” Lowe recalled the precise moment he discovered Pearl Harbor had been attacked. ‘Japan has descended onto Pearl Harbor!’
He was just 22 years old and serving in the reserves at the time. War was raging in Europe, and the prospect of the United States joining in was always looming–until now. Lowe and his senior officers were well aware that their fort may be the next to be attacked by the Japanese.
Lowe and his companions were told to collect their stuff and obtain their food and ammo rations that evening. They were then told to go out into the woods and pitch a tent that night. He remembers having to read their food cans with their lighters as a light source while trying not to make any noise.
“They had no idea what was about to happen,” he recalls. They were preparing for a possible Japanese invasion on Fort Lewis. Everyone knew we were headed to war with Japan, and everyone was furious that Pearl Harbor had been destroyed. But they had no idea how far the Japanese would go.”
When the Pearl Harbor strikes occurred, Lowe was 22 years old and stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. Camille DeVaul took this photo.
During this period, the soldiers were nervous and unsure of what was ahead of them. Lowe claims that no amount of basic training could have prepared them for the realities of battle.
Lowe was one of the first to be recruited into the army reserves, and after Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the Oregon Army National Guard’s 162nd Infantry Regiment. Lowe was sent to Portland, Oregon, after Fort Lewis, and one of his first responsibilities was to guard a bridge that he subsequently discovered was across the Columbia River.
He was sent to watch a 2-mile-long bridge alone, with just one gun, amid the snow and below-freezing conditions. Lowe was unaware that he was stationed on a swing bridge. Lowe heard a boat honk during his first shift on the bridge. Following this honk, the bridge under his feet began to rotate. When he peered down, he saw water and held on to the bridge sides. Until recently, this tiny Santa Margarita kid had no idea bridges could move.
After considerable deliberation, the decision was made to send Lowe and his fellow infantrymen abroad. Even back then, the guys had no idea where they were heading abroad and wouldn’t find out until they arrived months later.
The prisoners journeyed to New Jersey by rail, with armed guards stationed in each wagon, keeping an eye out for escapees.
“No one wanted to go to war,” Lowe said. The majority of them had been conscripted, and they were all terrified of what was ahead of them. He recalls several soldiers escaping from the train at a halt, and the guards letting them go since they didn’t know how to fire down their own troops.
Lowe and the others eventually made it to New Jersey. They were given some time upon arriving to obtain clothes and anything else they may want, including haircuts, which Lowe provided.
Lowe was carried aboard a ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on March 1, 1942. Lowe used the opportunity to wave farewell to Lady Liberty through the porthole as they left sail, the first and only time he ever saw her.
On April 9, 1942, Lowe arrived in Australia. He was stationed there for 28 months, as well as in New Guinea. Lowe married Ginny, the joy of his life, only days after returning home to Santa Margarita. They’ve been married for 77 years, and he’ll always be thankful to the tiny woman who patiently awaited him.
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