Marine Pfc. James Evans sat in his barracks waiting for a truck to take him to his guard post at Kaneohe Bay Naval Station. It was 7:55 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941. Because it was a payday weekend, it would be up to Evans to determine whether a Marine was “CNS” (clean and sober) or “DND” (dirty and drunk). That was a lot of responsibility for a 17-year-old who had lied about his age the previous year to enlist in the Marine Corps.
“I was pretty spiffed up,” said Evans, recalling the uniform he wore that day. “One man was looking out at the water. It must have been a minute before the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
Evans heard a “thump, thump, thump” but disregarded the sound because construction was going on nearby. Then he was beckoned to the door.
“Someone said, 'You have to come out and see this,' so I did,” Evans said. “Then a sergeant shouted an expletive and said: 'Get your rifles! We're being attacked!' ”
Evans was stationed at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, on the other side of the island of Oahu from Pearl Harbor. The station was the base for Navy seaplanes that patrolled the region and was attacked by the Japanese moments before Pearl Harbor.
Evans realized he was facing serious business that long-ago morning when a supply sergeant began issuing ammunition. He looked up to see Japanese planes circling the barracks.
But he was ready for action.
“Initially, it was kind of fun because we got to break the windows with our rifles and shoot at planes,” Evans said.
About 30 men fired at the moving targets, with little result. Those who didn't have guns threw potatoes, Evans said.
“We were fighting back with everything we had,” he said.
Evans decided it would make more sense to position a machine gun on the roof of the barracks. He used his bayonet to snap the lock off the hatch and struggled to move the heavy weapon onto the roof, only to discover the gun wasn't loaded. Matters were made worse when an enemy pilot smiled at Evans as he banked his plane.
“I started cussing and picked up my Springfield M1903 that was issued to me at boot camp,” he said. “I fired five rounds from my rifle at a plane going 300 miles per hour.”
A second attack was launched as Evans and other Marines began moving women and children from dependents' housing to bunkers.
“An (American) patrol bomber spotted the Japanese at sea, but his radio didn't work, so he couldn't warn anyone,” Evans said.
The aircraft carrier Enterprise was returning to Oahu that morning. Anti-aircraft fire made it almost impossible for planes from the ship to land on the airstrip, he said. After one pilot brought his aircraft safely to a stop, he grabbed Evans and demanded to know what was going on.
“I said, 'We're in a war!' ” Evans recalled.
“Bombing the United States was the dumbest thing the Japanese could have done,” Evans said. “At the time, 50 percent of Americans wanted to enter the war and 50 percent didn't. The attack made up our minds.”
Jim Evans became an advocate for all veterans in later years. He died February 23, 2010. He would have been 86 on March 25.
Source: San Diego.com, Union Tribune; Retired Marine speaks at schools.com by Lillian Cox, December 7, 2008; http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/news/northcounty/20081207-9999-1mc7evans.html