Yeoman Bill Hallern lives though Pearl Harbor
By Laura Schofer
Webmaster's Note: Dear Reader, the following article is from November of 2011, it is about our Post member and Pearl Harbor survivor, Irving William Halleran. Our friend Bill Halleran passed away on December 9, 2011. Bill's wife, Rosemary, is an active member in the American Legion Auxiliary Merrick Unit 1282 at the Post.
"They just kept coming."
That's how Bill Hallern of Merrick described the bombing of the U.S. Naval bast at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese fighter planes on the morning of December 7, 1941.
It was three minutes to eight, 7:57, when I heard these loud explosions and deafening noise," he said. Mr. Hallern, a Yeoman, First Class, United States Navy, assigned to the U.S.S. Phoenix, was standing in the executive's office with three other yeoman when the attack began.
"I looked our the porthole to battleship row. I could see the meatball (slang referring to the image of the Japanese Rising Sun on the side of the planes) and the planes were dropping torpedoes into the side of ships. 'Hell, I said, we're at war.'"
Japanese planes filled the sky over Pearl Harbor. Bombs and bullets rained onto the vessels moored below.
History.com describes the events of that day. "At 8:10 a.m., a 1,800 pound bomb smashed through the deck of the battleship U.S.S. Arizona and landed in her forward ammunition magazine.
The ship exploded and with more than 1,000 men trapped inside. Next, torpedoes pierced the shell of the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma.
With 400 sailors aboard, the Oklahoma lost her balance, rolled onto hr side and slipped underwater. By the time the attack was over every battleship in Pearl Harbor - U.S.S. Arizona, U.S.S. Oklahoma, U.S.S. California, U.S.S. West Virginia, U.S.S. Utah, U.S.S Maryland, U.S.S. Pennsylvania, U.S.S. Tennessee and U.S.S. Nevada - had sustained significant damage."
Yeoman Halleran was assigned to the U.S.S. Phoenix, a light cruiser that had just returned from a tour of duty in the Philippines, where they were ordered to "see how many Japs were there," he said referring to the building tension between the United States and Japan that indicated that war may be just over the horizon.
At the time, American intelligence officers didn't think the Japanese would attack American soil. Instead, they believed an attack might occur somewhere in the South Pacific or the Philippines. "Our ship was the only one in the (seventh) fleet with a gunnery, turrets and an engineer. We had lots of artillery. That's why they picked us," he said.
But there was nothing in the Philippines and the U.S.S. Phoenix made a stop in Manilla, picked up a general court martial prisoner who was confined to the brink and returned to Pearl Harbor.
"That day, it was pandemonium," said Mr. Hallern. "Over the loudspeaker, I heard 'All hands, man your battle stations.' I secured two portholes in the exec office. I tried to climb the ladder through the scuttle but it was too tight. So I went to the port side, up the scuttle. One chief yelled 'give me a hand with the canvas,'" said Mr. Halleran.
The canvas is used to protect the guns and needed to be pushed aside. "We started to cut down the canvas, which was blocking the guns. The chief and I pushed it over the side of the ship."
"I went to my battle station - After Con, which is three decks above the main deck." Mr. Hallern explained that After Con is the command center where operations would take place, if the bridge is destroyed. "There I was, in After Con and my exec never showed up. That made me the senior (officer). I knew I just couldn't stand around," he said.
"We had four 50-claiber guns, two on port and two on starboard, but no electric power and no ammunition so I elected to go to the ammunition room."
Mr. Halleran leans back in his chair and closes his eyes, imagining his journey that day. "Remember, I was three decks above the main. I had to go through scuttles, bulkheads, then three decks below main. I took a belt of 50-caliber ammunition and hung it around my neck. The ends dragged on the floor and I kept thinking as I climbed each ladder and went through each compartment, 'if this lets loose, things will go flying.' I made two trips like that," he said.
Back on After Con, Yeoman Halleran watched down below as the general court martial prisoner they had transported from Manilla, "had attached himself to the five-inch guns and was loading ammunition manually," he said.
Mr. Halleran explained this was an enormously huge task that was usually done electronically. "The guns are huge and rough. It's all machine and I see him using his right hand to load, and it looks like a piece of raw chopped meat. But he just kept loading."
Mr. Halleran said he was pretty sure he shot down one plane. "We used tracer bullets in the early years of the war and I saw the plane and it was smoking and landed in the sugar cane fields beyond." he said.
The barrage lasted about two hours. Mr. Halleran remembers the "attacks seemed to come in waves, but I really didn't have any concept of time. You just did what you had to do."
Mr. Halleran said the U.S.S. Phoenix was lucky. There were few casualties on board. However, 2,500 men were killed and another 1,000 were wounded that day. Additionally, eight battleships and 200 airplanes were destroyed.
A day after the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan; three days later the United States was also at war with Germany and Italy.
As for Mr. Halleran he spent the next four years fighting in the Pacific. In 1945 he left the Navy and by 1947 he settled in Merrick with his bride, Rosemary. Together they raised their three sons in Merrick.
Note: This article was printed in Merrick Life, Thursday, November 10, 2011, on page 13.