Pearl Harbor Flight Recalls Uncle’s USS Arizona Death

One of the great joys we have here at Pacific Warbirds is the opportunity to tell the full story of Pearl Harbor to those who had friends and family involved in the attack on December 7, 1941.

From time to time we host guests who lost a loved one during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and for those guests, it’s extra special to provide a memorable experience. One guest we hosted recently was James M. Clash, whose uncle Donald Clash, was killed in the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor.

James posted a great article about his experience on Bloomberg. You can read the full piece here. But, we wanted to share one of our favorite excerpts from the article.

Here it is, from James M. Clash:

By the time we got to the plane, my head was filled with history. The SNJ-5C is the U.S. Navy’s designation for the single-engine North American Aviation T-6 Texan. Ironically in the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” these aircraft, adorned with Japanese markings, simulated attacking Japanese Zeros. In reality, they were venerable U.S. warhorses. Ours, painted yellow and red, resembled planes on the deck of the USS Saratoga.

After instruction in the use of my parachute (“if you have to jump, aim for the back of the wing to avoid being clipped by the tail”), we closed the canopy and took off. I rode directly behind Mayes, with my own stick and rudder — in theory so students can fly the plane, too, as the two-seater is primarily a trainer aircraft.

But since I was a tourist, Mayes warned me to stay clear of the rudder pedals. Through my radio headset, he relayed a vivid crash tale where, in the fiery wreckage, investigators found a passenger’s shoe caught in those pedals, which had caused the pilot to lose control.

The wild island below receded, taking on the look of a well-manicured arboretum. Mayes immediately pointed out attack landmarks such as Hickam Field. After about 20 minutes, we reached the North Shore and I could see swells breaking off of Waimea and Sunset beaches. From 2,500 feet, the whitewater seemed puny but, in reality, the waves were more than 20 feet high.

After circling south along the east coast, we took a sharp right and headed through the mountain pass made famous in “Tora Tora! Tora!” Then, finally, we zeroed in on Pearl Harbor.

The ships and structures below looked like toys. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help turning back the clock and imagining what Japanese pilots saw that fateful day from where I was — then what my helpless uncle must have endured below on the Arizona as it burned. The whole thing gave me palpable chills, and I was still shaking when we landed.

(James M. Clash is the author of “The Right Stuff: Interviews with Icons of the 1960s,” (AskMen, 2012). He writes on adventure for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.)