Pearl Harbor: Joseph L. Lockard

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pvt. Joseph L. Lockard, a 19-year-old from Williamsport, was one of two soldiers manning the brand-new radar station at a hilltop at Opana Point on the northern tip of Oahu. 

Radar technology was so new that many in the military command in the region knew little, if anything, about it. To save manpower, the units were manned only four hours per day, and were shut down by 7 a.m. 

Lockard, now 87, said he left the unit on after 7 a.m. to allow Pvt. George Elliott some practice. On the screen, where normally an approaching aircraft or two would make a small blip, something was popping up that sent the shimmering light all the way to the top of the glass. "I had never seen anything like that. But that's not unusual, because I never had 180 planes coming at me before," Lockard said. 

It was the first wave of what would turn out to be 360 Japanese aircraft, and the beginning of an attack on Pearl Harbor that would bring America into World War II. More than 2,400 U.S. servicemen were killed in the attack, roughly half of those dying aboard the battleship USS Arizona. In all, 18 U.S. ships were sunk or heavily damaged. 

The Japanese planes were first detected 137 miles out, near the outer limit of the 150-mile limit at Lockard's radar station. 

Lockard called in a warning, but his immediate supervisor was not answering. He called his unit's administrative office, finally reaching a lieutenant. The lieutenant told him not to worry. It was probably a flight of B-17 Flying Fortresses due in that morning from California. 

At about 7:45 a.m., Lockard turned off the radar because the truck that was to take them back to their camp had arrived. About 10 minutes later, the first bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor. "We were facing the harbor on the way down, and we could see the big billows of black smoke and knew something had happened," he said.

Lockard eventually became a key witness in panels convened by the military and Congress investigating the attack at Pearl Harbor. He would later be appointed to officer candidate school and earn the Distinguished Service Medal. 

He said he is not angry that his warning of the aircraft went unheeded. "If anything, it made me sad," he said. 

Lockard figures his part in the events of that "Day of Infamy" comes out to a "what-if" footnote for the history books. "What if it hadn't been a Sunday? What if the Jap planes had left their ships 15 minutes earlier? What if they had taken our warning seriously? They couldn't have gotten the ships out of the harbor, but maybe they could have had the bigger anti-aircraft guns manned and kept the bombers at more of a distance," he said. 

Source: Defence Forum of India: