7 December 1941 — Pearl Harbor
Staff Sergeant Robert K. Barnard, B17-E Radio operator, tail gunner.
Born 11-7-1920, Died 10-19-2005
Joined the Army Air Force, September 1939
Basic training: Hamilton Field, California.
Awarded: Air Medal, The Distinguished Flying Cross, and The Bronze Star.
Was an enlisted crew member on one of the Twelve B17-E's that left Hamilton Field, California the evening of December 6th, 1941 with Hikam Field the first stop on our flight to the Philippines.
The following is his experience on Dec. 7 1941 in his own hand.
Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
by Bob Barnard
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is possibly the biggest of all stories about wars. Most Americans who lived through the war measured their lives before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. BUT.... not considering the horrors of any war or the despicable way Japan conducted it in all theaters, Historians label the attack on Pearl Harbor as a dazzling and clever maneuver.
Historians believe that Japan wanted U.S. and England to wink at them when they started taking the oil rich islands in Southern Asia. They needed the oil to keep their plans of world domination alive. I joined the Air Force in September of 1939 hoping to be a Radio Operator on a B17. Then with the experience of flying cross-country flights in peace time, the airmen that wanted to could take the radio training offered at Scott Field Illinois. It was a six-month tour. When we attended school it was called detached service. My home base was Fort Douglas, at Salt Lake City, Utah.
I returned there in November of 1941 after graduating from the radio school. The base was all a buzz because 15 crews were readied for a flight to the Philippines. I volunteered and was introduced to my crew. Each crew got a new airplane delivered direct from Boeing, at Seattle.
It was painted a drab brown. It was a B17 E. This was the fifth series and the first to have a stinger in the tail, which is we had 2 fifty-caliber guns mounted in the tail for better protection, to keep the Japanese Zeros away.
Three airplanes were out for repairs early as we tested and learned about the new equipment on our new aircraft. The training flights were 12 and 14 hour flights all over the U.S. Our first stop after the training flights would be Hikam Field in Hawaii. The last two days before take off were spent waiting for mechanics to do some modifying of the new equipment at the depot in Sacramento, California. It was a welcome respite. Take off for Hawaii was scheduled for approximately 6 P.M. Saturday the 6th of December 1941 from Hamilton Field Ca. It was an important flight because General Hap Arnold, Commanding officer of the Air Force was there to send us off and tell us "good hunting your going to get plenty of it." He was right.
We were over the golden gate bridge approximately 6:30 P.M. and droned on into the red of a California sun set. Each of the 12 airplanes had a complement of ten, 50 caliber guns and one 30 caliber in the nose, but no ammunition on this flight to conserve weight. Each of the crews attended their duties as others slept. There was little conversation. No radio messages. We copied some weather put out from San Francisco and Hikam.
The morning sun caught us before we sighted the islands. Then, as we passed Diamond Head we saw all the antiaircraft fire. Over the intercom the navigator and bombardier announced heavy black smoke ahead and then a louder call, antiaircraft fire. "This is Sunday, the Navy got up early this morning and it looks like they are having practice." We went by Diamond head. Then we could really see the black antiaircraft fire. Honolulu was on our right and a destroyer was going around in circles just off shore, firing at the sky.
"The Japs have hit Pearl Harbor," came over the intercom. "This is no drill."
I looked up through the radio room window and saw six airplanes with red dots on their wings flying in formation. As we made our approach toward Hikam we heard one of our other airplane pilots ask the tower for landing instructions. He told them: "Land East West, wind five, Land on runway two, look out there is a Jap on your tail. This is no drill." He gunned it, came around again and landed without incident. As we flew past Hikam we saw clouds of smoke and dust and trucks and jeeps going every which way. That scene was enough to make up the pilots mind that we weren't going to land at Hikam. We circled Pearl Harbor 3 times and as we started our third pass he turned to the engineer and said, "I sure don't like this", and the engineer said," Well lets get the Hell out of here then." The pilot said, "All right, where? Down there looks impossible” The engineer pointed northwest and said, "I was here 6 years ago. There is a small fighter strip we can get in on. Its dirt but we can make it."
We came in down wind and made it easy. Another of our airplanes had landed just ahead of us.
A gas truck arrived and we unrolled the hoses and then somebody screamed, head for cover there's a Jap going to make a pass. Then we all heard the unfamiliar drone of an enemy airplane. Every body headed for the ditch and we all watched as a Jap Navy single seater Val made his pass, firing on some P36 fighter, trainers parked on the opposite side of the runway, then he was gone.
We all stood in the ditch with nothing but forty fives on our hips. Some of the guys fired and the infantry opened up on him with their rifles but he got away.
Another crewman and I were ordered to take the 30-caliber machine gun out of the nose of the airplane and a flight jacket. While we did that one of the other crew got a belt of ammo from the squad of infantryman. We met back at the ditch and loaded the gun, wrapped the flight jacket around the gun barrel, a man on each side of the gun and somebody to fire it and we would give any other airplane a different welcome. We didn't have a tripod to mount it on. No more enemy planes strafed us.
A short time later the pilot went to the airplane and radioed the Hikam Tower and got permission to land. The raid was over. We were all a dejected bunch of guys. We wanted to go out, find and punish the Nippon Navy for this dastard attack.
We landed at Hikam and were met by a white haired colonel with tired blue eyes. He welcomed us and gave us instructions to taxi to another part of the field.
We were issued fold down canvas cots to sleep on for the night. It was our first but not the last time to sleep out side. We called it sleeping in the bunnies. We were given an area of the swampy side of Hikam for one night. The mosquitoes were big and hungry but not as big as some we would see later in New Caledonia and New Guinea.
As darkness swept the Harbor and Hikam, December 7th, 1941, several of us got wind there was chow in building number so and so. It was suggested, be careful and follow the main paths. It was around a mile away. It had been quite a while since we had food. We found the food and were greeted several times with a shot from an over zealous guard firing in the air. Some a long way away and some not so far. We were all observers of the 3 or 4 marine carrier planes that came in to augment the fighter force and were damaged because of wrong air to ground and ground to air signals and some loss of life by friendly fire. The barrage they sent up was spectacular. I saw two other nighttime barrages during the war but this was like the whole sky exploded. We could hear the swish of the shrapnel of the exploding shells come down.
The next morning we got word a truck would pick us up and take us to the hospital to give blood.
More volunteered than they had room on the truck so the truck made two trips. It was a sorrowful scene. All the halls were full but they took our blood. We could hear the moaning and calls for painkillers. There were many, many burn victims and they had the toughest time. Some of them had swum through the burning oil and were either picked up by one of the boats or made it to shore on their own.
We patrolled for 6 weeks out of Pearl and then were sent to Australia to patrol and drop bombs on the advancing Nippon Army and Navy.
I flew 67 missions over enemy held territory with a total of 547 hours over the target in one year of over seas duty. I received the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross along with several squadron and group citations. I came home at Christmas time, 1942 and spent rest of the war in Peyote Texas as a Radio operator gunner instructor. We put Air Crews through their training exercise and sent them on to war.