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Vet remembers the day that would 'live in infamy'

Wes Harder, 83, of Central Point was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked 64 years ago today. / Jim Craven — — — — Wes Harder of Central Point was on duty in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941

Wes Harder was ready to punch out whoever was making the unholy racket that caused him to bolt upright in bed early that Sunday morning.

All of a sudden this anti-aircraft battery cut loose with everything they had, he said. Shell splinters were landing on the tin roof across from where we were sleeping.

We couldn't figure out what the heck those idiots were doing, firing those guns on a Sunday morning like that.

Those idiots were fellow American soldiers at the U.S. Army headquarters in Hawaii on a hill some three miles from Pearl Harbor attempting to repulse the Japanese aircraft that were attacking the Navy base. It was Dec. 7, 1941.

When the oily black smoke cleared from Pearl Harbor, some 2,400 American servicemen would be dead, the Pacific Fleet badly crippled and the United States immersed in World War II.

— That attack was the Sept. 11 of Harder's generation.

It was so unexpected, said Harder, 83, of Central Point.

Harder spent 21 years in the Army, rising from private to first lieutenant. During that time he saw much of the world, from Asia to Europe. He also met a fellow GI named Alice, now his wife of 59 years.

Born in Albany, Harder joined the Army in January 1941. After a stint in the artillery at Hawaii, he started working in the G-2 section, the Army's code for military intelligence.

He was awarded a Soldier's Medal for heroism after saving a drowning soldier on Dec. 28, 1944, at Telegrafo off the island of Leyte in the Philippines. A citation for the medal indicates that then-Tech. Sgt. Harder, already exhausted from swimming to shore, re-entered the water and rescued the man who was sinking at that point.

The incident occurred not long after Gen. Douglas MacArthur led the attack to recapture the Philippine Islands from the Japanese.

I was overseas for four years once the war started, he said. It seemed like it went on for a long time.

A time triggered by the Japanese attack 64 years ago this morning.

I jumped out of bed and grabbed a pair of pants and a T-shirt, he said. They opened up the supply room and told us to draw our weapons. We looked like a bunch of bandits. We had bandoleers, rifles and pistols and said, 'Let us at 'em!'

But the attackers were airborne. There was no ground assault.

We were looking down on the whole thing from the hill, he said of watching Pearl Harbor erupt in flames and roiling black smoke.

Everybody was frantic, he said. They started stringing barbed wire all over the beaches. We were waiting for an invasion. The morale was high.

Bu the troops, armed with bolt-action .30-06 rifles, were a bit jittery.

We were firing at clouds and different things at night for days afterwards, he said. They had big searchlights going back and forth in the night sky. A couple of times we even shot at our own planes.

Vet remembers the day that would ?live in infamy? "pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Wes Harder, 83, of Central Point was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked 64 years ago today. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune images