Mary Ann Ramsey

Webnote: The following story relates the incredible memories of Mary Ann Ramsey daughter of CVE-21 Captain Logan Ramsey. Ms. Ramsey was a 16 year old teenager living with her parents on Ford Island right in the middle of Pearl Harbor. The date was December 7, 1941 and the USS Arizona was berthed only a few yards (maybe a football field) from her bedroom.

The following memories are excerpts from an article “Only Yesterday” written by Ms. Ramsey for Naval History and published in the winter of 1991. The article has also been published in the recreated “Big Blue Book” (please see the Contact Us page for ordering information). The full article can be downloaded by clicking the link at the end of the story.

“I was awakened at 7:30 by the ring of the telephone. Though I was slow to rise, the urgency in my father’s voice produced in me a quick alert.”

“Are you sure, Dick? All right. I’ll be down immediately!”

“Within a few minutes, I caught just a glimpse of Dad, dressed in an “aloha” shirt and slacks, rushing past my bedroom door. He was gone from our carport before I could reach my parents’ room, where I found Mother sitting up in bed, confused. Incredulous, she told me a submarine had been sunk just outside the harbor net, and before she had finished speaking, the first bomb fell. We looked at each other in disbelief.

…..we knew we were to go to the admiral’s quarters in the event of an attack. All of our houses were typically tropical, that is, sans basements, but the Bellingers’ quarters had been constructed over an old ammunition depot and gun emplacement, which were to serve as our shelter for the next four and a half hours.

Mother seemed frozen in place as I urged her, simultaneously with the sound of exploding bombs and the eerie whine of planes diving overhead to follow me out of the house. Running across our back lawn toward the admiral’s quarters, I glanced to the right. The Arizona was engulfed in flames and literally exploding. Fragments of the ship and great billows of black smoke were everywhere. The relentless waves of Japanese planes, having released their deadly torpedoes, came out of their low-altitude run just over our house.

At that moment something struck my wrist, but was deflected by the native-made silver bracelet I was wearing. Dad had brought it back to me after his recent flight to Noumea. Whatever hit me knocked out a small chunk of the design. Though I still have the bracelet, this was the first and only time I ever wore it. For sentimental reasons, I had grabbed my jewelry and high school yearbook before leaving the house. I also had taken a vain moment to remove the dreadful tin curlers we wore to bed in those days.

We seemed to be taking forever to cross our own and our neighbor’s lawn to reach the Bellinger house. I glanced behind me to see where Mother was. She had almost hidden herself from view in some shrubbery after she, too, had seen the low-flying torpedo planes.

Others had arrived in the shelter before us, including a group of Marine guards. Once there, we were no longer able to see much of what was going on. A single window at the north end afforded a view of the hospital ship, USS Solace (AH-5). Geysers of water rose skyward as bombs fell around but not on her, whether by design or accident we couldn’t tell.

Shock, fear, anger—virtually every definable human emotion—gripped us all. In one corner a woman knelt, obviously praying as she fingered a rosary. A young mother held her three-week-old baby, who was screaming in terror at the terrible noise. The child tight against her chest, her own fear so raw, so vivid, the mother seemed on the verge of fainting.

A close hit shook the shelter with the ferocity of an earthquake and threw us, partly from its force and partly from our own instinct, closer to the walls. The entire island seemed to be blowing up. It was then that a fluster of activity outside telegraphed the arrival of our wounded. Passenger cards, Navy vehicles—any transport at hand—began to pull up, discharging men from the Arizona and the ships around her.

A young man, filthy black oil covering his burned, shredded flesh, walked in unaided. He had no clothes on, his nudity entirely obscured by oil. The skin hung from his arms like scarlet ribbons as he staggered toward my mother for help. Looking at me, he gestured to his throat, trying to speak: he must have swallowed some of the burning oil as he swam through the inferno. His light blue eyes against the whites, made more so by the oil clinging to his face, were luminous in visible shock at what they had seen and experienced that awful morning. He remains my most vivid and lasting memory of Pearl Harbor.

We directed him to the mattresses now lining the corridor of the shelter, as the Marines herded us into a side room in order to keep the passageway clear for the arrival of more wounded. After a while, I went back into the corridor to help wherever I could, while Mother occupied herself trying to soothe some of the small children.

A sailor told me, tears streaming down his cheeks, how his best friend was blown apart in front of him; another was grieving over the loss of his brother. From many there was only the deadly silence of shock or the soft moaning of pain.

It had seemed like hours, but in fact, less than half an hour had passed when, as suddenly as it had started, the bombing and gunfire stopped. There was a momentary hope that the attack was over, though we knew better. No one had dared say it out load, but most of us had little doubt that an invasion was in the offing.

For the first time, I wondered about my father. Was he alive? Might the Japanese have bombed command headquarters at the southern end of Ford Island? We knew they had been destroying the hangars and planes on the airstrip close by. As men came in and out of the shelter (now that the ambulances began to arrive to take the wounded to sick bay), we heard more and more bad news. The Oklahoma (BB-37) had capsized; men were trapped inside.

It was a short respite. The ominous growl of planes filled the air once again as the attack resumed—this time for an even longer period. The sound of antiaircraft fire and the screeching some downed Japanese planes was reassuring. As long as the injured were with us, I had few thoughts of the air raid itself. As they were being moved, it seemed as if the attack had taken on new and greater ferocity. Turning my attention to my mother for the first time, I realized her face had become an ashen mask. I had been so preoccupied with the wounded, and she with the children, that the initial fear for self had disappeared. For her, it was back. As the noise increased, we looked at each other almost like strangers. I had no fear at all. I believe now that this was simply the difference in our ages. When I saw that first sailor, so horribly burned, personal fear left me. He brought to me the full tragedy of that day, drastically changing my outlook. At 16, the idea that any man could be the instrument of such desecration of another, in so hideous a manner, had been incomprehensible. I had read nothing in history books that could match the impact of those first 15 minutes in the shelter.

My sense of values, my self-centered world had been shaken and changed forever.”

To download the complete article, Only Yesterday Click Here.