Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
Bombing. Second wave. Arizona. Oklahoma. Ships exploding. Hickham on fire.
At 30 words per minute, Pfc. John Looser fastidiously deciphered these words from mere tones on Dec. 7, 1941. The messages were choppy but the words led him to believe the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor.
Looser, who was stationed at Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan, ran into the hangar to tell his friends and fellow soldiers what he had heard. They all laughed and told him he must have had a bad night. They assured him that someone must be doing a maneuvering exercise, that he was on the wrong station, or that he was copying a Hollywood movie.
Looser, now an Integrace Fairhaven resident in Sykesville, returned to the radio shop and resumed coding. Sirens began to wail and Looser remembers that an announcement was made for everyone to report to their duty stations “on the double, no formations.”
Looser said a second announcement commanded the men to scramble all aircraft immediately. He said there were a lot of planes and only a few soldiers. Looser said a line chief took over and rallied the radiomen.
“You all know how to start up the engines, so we will let you taxi aircraft today,” Looser recalled the chief saying.
On that “day of infamy,” as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, Looser got to taxi his first P-40 and P-43 fighter planes.
Looser, 96, said he enlisted in October 1939 to learn radio mechanics and receive control tower training. He was a member of the Signal Corps, which was part of the then-U.S. Army Air Corp.
Looser recalled that Dec. 7, 1941 was a Sunday morning after a pay-day weekend. They were paid $21 once a month. The night before, he went with a group to the Little Tavern in Mount Clemens, Michigan. He said they drank beer and danced all evening with young ladies who worked at a local automobile plant. The last bus left for the base at 1 a.m. and all members of the group made sure they were on it.
Looser said they were tired the next morning but they got up, made their beds, ate breakfast and shot a few games of pool before going to the hangar to help their buddy, Ace Gohdes, do an inspection on a P-35 fighter plane.
Looser said he had completed the plane’s radio inspection on Saturday, so he went into the radio repair shop to practice some code. He was working to pass a specialist second class exam, which would bump up his pay grade.
When he tuned the shortwave station to WAR, the War Department’s frequency for contacting bases around the world, he was able to decode the messages.
Looser said the attack on Pearl Harbor was “a big shock for this country.”
“We were ill-prepared for an attack, but it was amazing how the country responded to the war effort,” Looser said. “I don’t think we could do that today. Then, the Ford Motor plant could build a B-24 in an hour. Could we do that today? No.”
Before the attack, Looser said soldiers weren’t considered professional people and they weren’t held in very high esteem.
After Pearl Harbor, and America’s entry into World War II, the country’s opinion of the military changed.
“You were proud to wear your uniform in town and we all felt like we were doing something for our country,” Looser said.
Looser retired as a decorated U.S. Air Force Major in May 1965. He went on to have an esteemed career as a team chief at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.