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Interview With Peter Nottage, George Delong

Aired December 7, 2001 - 12:31   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Today it is nearly three months after September 11. But the nation is pausing to remember another American tragedy: the attack on Pearl Harbor, November (sic) 7, 1941. On this 60th anniversary, CNN's Martin Savidge is standing by live at the D- Day Museum in New Orleans.

Hello Martin. They are observing it there as well.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are. And it's a celebration at this point, Judy. It is -- out of a blue sky, falling red, white and blue confetti. And as you look on the streets of downtown New Orleans, it almost looks like a military invasion -- but the invasion of the best kind, as they mark not only this December 7th, 60 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the dedication of a new wing of the National D-Day Museum. A wing that is dedicated to the brutal 44-month campaign for the battle of the South Pacific.

They also recall here, not just distant history, but recent history. Events of just three months ago, and September 11 burn freshly on the minds of many of these veterans who say that was also one of the most painful days that they ever had to endure. They have literally now had to survive what would be called two days of infamy.

And those veterans, George Bush Sr., former president of the United States. He recalled the sacrifice.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I remember how the country came together.



TOM HANKS, ACTOR: ... saying that generations of human beings all around the world have enjoyed the blessings of freedom because of what they did in Europe and in the Pacific during their youthful years.


SAVIDGE: Actor Tom Hanks, of course, remembered because of his role in "Saving Private Ryan." A lot of the veterans believe it was that movie that resparked the interest and the patriotism, not only in just World War II, but in America in general.

But as we say, the thoughts of many of these veterans now with the young men and women serving overseas in Afghanistan. Another war has come from another surprise attack. But they say America will rise to the challenge, just as they did -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Marty, tell us about some of the people who are there for this.

SAVIDGE: Well, you saw that President Bush is here, actor Tom Hanks. On top of that, there are other members here -- 14 Medal of Honor winners. There are at least 700 veterans that are in this parade. Several thousand veterans that are here in New Orleans. In fact, it is said to be the largest gathering of Pacific war veterans that have gotten together since the end of World War II.

Then there is General Paul Tibbets. He's the man who was in command of the Enola Gay; the B-29 superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. A significant day, but significant for two tragic reasons -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's right. Martin Savidge reporting for us from the D-Day Museum there in New Orleans.

Well, 60 years ago today, as we said, in Hawaii, bombs broke the morning silence at Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into World War II. The book "Pearl Harbor" takes a look at that day of infamy through the eyes of survivors and pictures from the attack.

Joining us now from Honolulu are two men whose stories are told in the book. They are together. George Delong and Peter Nottage.

Mr. Delong, Mr. Nottage, good to see both of you. We appreciate your joining us.

Let me start with you, Peter Nottage. And tell us where you were when the attack began.

PETER NOTTAGE, PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR: Certainly. I was a 13- year-old kid visiting on the underside of this island, where I watched the attack on Kaneohe Naval Air Station. Planes coming in over our head. We could see the strafing, the bombing, the smoke. It was quite spectacular.

WOODRUFF: What did you see?

NOTTAGE: Well, we saw -- I was, as I say, 13-years-old. I saw planes coming overhead which I, as a 13-year-old, could not identify. We did see a big red meatball on the side of them. We first thought it was maneuvers -- the red army verses the blue army, which we were used to. At which point my mother ran out of the house and said no, this is the real thing, this is war.

So we watched the planes. And we were so close we could see the pilots in them. They would drop down over us, streak across the base, strafing and bombing the... WOODRUFF: You were that close? You could see the pilots?

NOTTAGE: Absolutely, absolutely. And they bombed the PDYs that were afloat and on a ramp. And it was spectacular, to say the least.

WOODRUFF: Tell us, what were the PDYs?

NOTTAGE: The PDYs are the patrol boats. I think they had three squadrons over there -- float boats; big two-engine planes that would go out and scout and patrol the area and then land on the water. And they were, I think, four of them anchored out in the bay, and they were taken care of in short order.

WOODRUFF: George Delong, where were you that morning?

GEORGE DELONG, PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR: I was just getting out of my bunk down in the aft steering station of the USS Oklahoma. That was one of the battleships that was hit early in the attack.

And I never did get to know what was going on topside. The -- I had just gotten out of my bunk, and the loudspeaker was turned on. And they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was hollering "all hands, man your battle stations." And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you're off the ship.

The problem was that we were in port, and we started to wonder: Why would they want to have a drill on a Sunday morning? As a result, there was some hesitation before the loudspeaker came back on again, topside -- the boats' mates saw something that we didn't. And he hollered -- and he started using some pretty salty language to describe our getting moving. And so we started to dash out of our compartment. My battle station was up in the bridge, and I was supposed to be going up there to the bridge.

And I started up the ladder that went up to the carpenter's shop, which was above us. And the end result was they battered down -- battened down the door, and I couldn't get out. The -- so we were -- those of us that were in the aft steering station were locked in with doors that were dogged down. And -- yes.

WOODRUFF: How long before you realized that it was an enemy attack? That it was the Japanese coming in?

DELONG: A day and a half. A day and a half later that we knew that. Now, the fellows topside knew it; but what happened in our case, we were trapped in this compartment four decks below the main deck. And when the ship turned over, which it did, shortly after we heard all these explosions. We didn't know what they were -- where they were coming from, or we didn't see anything.

And all of a sudden the ship turned over, and we were still down there. And I went back up to my bunk that I had just left a minute or two before, and hung on there as the ship turned over, and all the machinery was crashing across the deck. And we ended up pretty well convinced that we were never going to get out of the compartment on our own volition.

As a matter of fact -- yes.

WOODRUFF: How did you finally get out? What finally happened?

DELONG: Well, a day later the fellows we started -- we heard noises topside. Fellows were working with pneumatic drills. They cut holes in the bottom of the ship, and came down on the inside of the ship and got us out of the individual compartments. In my compartment, there was eight fellows. And they finally got to us at about 4:00 on Monday afternoon. That was almost a day and a half after the ship turned over, and we still didn't know what had happened to us.

WOODRUFF: Peter Nottage, tell us -- again, you were a boy of 13, a young teen -- what happened in the hours and the day or so after the attack began? What did you see, what did you do?

NOTTAGE: Well, as I say, we were on the windward side of this island, Oahu. And the planes left after an hour, I guess. And what to do -- well, we got in the car to come back to our house in Manoa Valley. There were Army patrols along the roads, stopping us.

Actually, my mother was petrified; my dad was scared. And I thought it was kind of exciting, I guess. I don't know -- I wasn't really concerned until later that night, when we had people who were living down on Waikiki Beach move up and spend the night with us up in the safety of the valley. My mother and I had to go and visit her mother, who was dying -- who died two weeks later in the blackout. That was scary.

Walking along streets where there were absolutely no lights on a cloudy night, and then occasionally being interrupted by the click of somebody slamming a cartridge into the bolt of a rifle and giving the classic: "Who goes there?" That's when it started to get scary for me.

WOODRUFF: George Delong, what of the people you knew who were lost? How many people you -- men you worked closely with were lost?

DELONG: Well, there were about four or five that I worked closely with. But on the other hand there were, in the ship itself, there were -- we lost about -- somewhere between 425 and 450 men. Of those, really close friends, I would say were about four or five.

WOODRUFF: And how long before, for you, this sunk in -- I mean, that the enormity of what had happened -- that something had happened -- an attack on the United States that was bringing the United States into the war?

DELONG: Well, we didn't know exactly what happened until they cut us out. And when they got us out, they took us up through the bottom of the ship and put us in the motor launch and took us over to the USS Solace -- a hospital ship that was in the harbor at the time/

And only then did we find out what had happened. The boats -- those in charge of the boat took us over there, started to explain that the Japanese planes had attacked and that the war had started. And we looked around the harbor, and there we saw the smoke was still coming up from the Arizona, and oil was still burning in the water; and this was a day and a half after the attack. And as we went over to the solace, they finally told us what had happened.

WOODRUFF: So many -- of course, every American since September the 11th of this year has been focused on terrorism here in the United States and Washington, and in New York City. When September 11 happened for the both of you -- and Peter, I want to come back to you first -- did it immediately call to mind Pearl Harbor?

NOTTAGE: No. We were in Fiji, of all places. And we got the news on BBC. And it looked like a movie. We could not believe what had happened. Remember, this was 60 years later, and I was looking at it through 60-year-older eyes. So it was a different impression for me. But it was, of course, a totally scary one.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, George Delong?

DELONG: Yes. The truth about is, I had some -- made some comparison. But in view of the fact that the attack was of a different nature -- these are civilian terrorists against civilians, instead of men of war against men of war, it's a completely different story.

WOODRUFF: Well, I want to thank both of you, George Delong on the right, Peter Nottage on the left, for sharing your memories of that terrible day with us. Thank you very much gentlemen, we appreciate it.

DELONG: Thank you.

NOTTAGE: Our pleasure.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you both.




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