Jack Williamson can’t give many vivid details about what he saw during the Dec. 7, 1941 surprise bomb attack on Pearl Harbor, but he was close enough to hear the bombs exploding.
He was a little too busy to sit back and watch.
Williamson, a 94-year-old Thorp Spring resident who was born south of Granbury in the Mambrino area, was a torpedoman in the Navy when the Japanese planes unleashed their bombs in that strategic World War II attack.
The sailors at the submarine base were instructed to prepare the eight submarines there for action without delay. They were to be sent out seeking Japan’s aircraft carriers in that part of the Pacific.
“When the war started, they sent out a message all around the armed forces to report to your station immediately,” said Williamson, who served 20 years in the Navy and retired as a chief petty officer. “I was a diver. My job was to work on torpedoes. I never will forget the chief in charge said to start putting those warheads on.
“Meanwhile, I could hear the bombs dropping on Ford Island where the ships were. I could hear bombs as they went swishing through the air and I could hear them explode.”
He said he thought to himself, “My God, how many people are they killing out there?”
Williamson said the bombing was about three-quarters of a mile from his station. He was part of a group of about 10 men who had to go get 45 to 50 warheads – each containing 500 pounds of TNT – from where they were stored, underground on a nearby hillside.
“All the time, we heard this bombing going on,” Williamson said. “We worked all that day and into the night getting those torpedoes loaded and ready.”
Meanwhile his wife Mary, a native of Hawaii, was patiently waiting to hear from Jack.
“Mary didn’t know whether I was dead or alive,” Williamson said. “I was thinking that if (the Japanese) saw our submarines they might try to bomb our submarines and they would bomb us, too.”
He added, “We were all so busy, we weren’t doing much talking.”
Later, Williamson said, his feelings hit home about the lives lost in the attack even though he didn’t personally know anyone who was killed.
“I felt terrible about it,” he said before saying he is proud of his military service. “I’m proud of my Navy time. I just hope other people don’t have to go through what I did there.”
Williamson was a substitute teacher in Fort Worth for about 15 years, and he worked 17 years for General Dynamics before retiring.
Jack and Mary, who was from the island of Maui, met while Jack was stationed in Hawaii and have been married 72 years.
“We corresponded by mail. That was our courtship until I graduated from high school,” said Mary, who clearly enjoyed helping her husband re-tell World War II stories.
They have three sons. Willie, who lives in the Houston area, is the oldest at age 72. Bobby, their middle son who served four years in the Navy, lives in Fort Worth. The youngest is John, of Dallas.
Jack learned he had a real talent for poker, and traveled many times to Las Vegas to try his hand.
“I won quite a bit of money,” he said.
Mary, who stuck mostly with bingo on such trips, had to wait up particularly late for him one night. She said when he walked into their hotel room, she asked him if he had lost all his money playing poker.
Williamson didn’t speak at first, but pulled out some cash.
“I won $10,000, and I laid it out on the bed,” Williamson said, explaining that he handed Mary $1,000 and told her to “buy herself something pretty, and put the rest in the bank.”
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