Omahan Ed Guthrie remembers standing on the deck of a U.S. Navy ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor and watching in disbelief as a Japanese pilot in a red scarf passed close enough to wave at him.
“There were torpedo bombers coming down the chute right alongside of us, skimming over the water. They all wore those red scarves,” Guthrie said Sunday at a fundraiser for junior ROTC cadets planning a trip to Pear Harbor. “I could see this pilot and he waved at me and I waved back. My shipmates said ‘What did you do that for?’ I said ‘As long as (the pilot) was waving, he wasn’t bombing.’ ”
Guthrie’s ship, the USS Whitney, was a repair vessel berthed next to a line of destroyers and was not damaged in the attack. He vividly recalls spending the next three days, however, pulling bodies from the oil-soaked waters of the harbor.
“All those white sailor suits and that black oil ... they didn’t mix very well,” Guthrie said. “It’s something you don’t forget.”
During those days following the attack, Guthrie found an oily $5 bill floating in the water. He picked up the bill and kept it in his wallet for 45 years before having it laminated and putting it with other mementos.
Guthrie, 97, told of his experiences as a 23-year-old apprentice on the USS Whitney during a pancake breakfast Sunday at VFW Post 2503 at 89th Street and Military Road. The Benson High School junior ROTC cadets were conducting one of a series of fundraisers to pay for a trip to Pearl Harbor for the 75th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, sneak attack.
The cadets have raised about $45,000 of the $75,000 needed for the trip, according to their commander, retired Army Col. Dwight Lydic. He said 27 of 115 cadets in the program are signed up for the five-day trip that begins Dec. 5.
“Hopefully they take away a sense of history about what that generation had to do for this country,” Lydic said. “During the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, our cadets were profoundly affected by seeing the cemeteries and talking to our vets.”
The Pearl Harbor attack resulted in damage to all eight U.S. Navy battleships at anchor, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona and USS Utah were later raised, with six returning to fight in the war.
There were 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others wounded. As of Sunday, Guthrie is one of only three Nebraskans who survived the attack and are still alive, said his daughter, Peg Murphy of Omaha.
“Dad thinks it’s important that these (cadets) know what happened at Pearl Harbor,” Murphy said. “We’re planning to be there with them for the (75th) anniversary. He’ll be 98 in July.”
Guthrie talked to the cadets about his war experiences in the Pacific Theater from Pearl Harbor to the invasion of the Philippines to the atomic bomb testing that continued after the war. He left the Navy in 1946 and worked for the Omaha Public Power District until his retirement.
“I used to have some communication with some of my shipmates, but now I don’t know if any of them are still alive,” Guthrie said. “I guess we’ll see.”
The cadets are eager to see survivors of the attack from the United States and Japan who will gather for the Dec. 7 ceremonies. Freshman Steve Pruss said he expects one of the highlights to be “marching onto the Arizona.”
Cadet Devon Ashby said Guthrie and the others who were attacked are heroes. The sophomore hopes his participation at the ceremonies in Hawaii honors their service.
“Because my family has a long background of military involvement, I am going there to Pearl Harbor to show my support,” Ashby said. “Mr. Guthrie was very inspiring.”
Battalion Commander Irlanda Arenas, a junior, said she’s proud of how hard Benson’s cadets have been working to raise the money needed for the trip. Each cadet headed to Pearl Harbor had to come up with $1,500 on his own to get started.
There have been lots of pancake feeds, car washes and food sales since the trip was approved about a year ago. The cadets began preparation for Sunday’s breakfast at 6:30 a.m.
“They’ve matured a lot since this program started,” Arenas said. “Getting to be at Pearl Harbor is such an honor. If you think about the Arizona, it boggles your mind to realize there are hundreds of bodies still entombed down there.”