Local Pearl Harbor survivor recounts attack, aftermath

Jefferson City resident Bill McAnany recounts his experience during the attack on Pearl Harbor. McAnany was assigned to a hospital ship that sat just 100 yards away from the USS Arizona. (Garrett Bergquist/KRCG 13)

When the sun rose over Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941, Bill McAnany and his friends were sightseeing.

McAnany said he and his friends had heard their hospital ship, the USS Solace, was heading to the western Pacific Ocean and wanted to see the rest of the island. As their tour unfolded, they saw planes overhead.

"We thought, well, these guys are practicing on a Sunday, but they must be shooting at drones," he said.

McAnany, now 96 years old and living in Jefferson City, joined the Navy in 1938. He was a 20-year-old X-ray technician when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

As he and his friends watched the planes overhead, McAnanay said a man drove up and told them the attack was real. They turned on the radio in their car and heard a bulletin ordering all personnel to return to base. McAnany said he and his friends raced back to the harbor and found more than 1,000 other sailors trying to get back to their ships. He said a guard noticed their medical insignia and waved them through the crowd.

McAnany said his ship was positioned just 100 yards away from the USS Arizona. The famous footage of the Arizona blowing up during the attack was shot from the stern of the Solace. McAnany didn't reach the Solace that day. Instead, he was sent to a temporary hospital on Ford Island, where he spent the following days treating survivors.

"You've been trained to do this stuff," he said. "So when you're there and it's happening, you just put your training into being."

McAnany said most of the wounded had suffered burns from jumping into water covered in burning oil. His most vivid memory of the attack stems not from the attack itself but from a related incident a few months later. A crewman from the battleship USS Nevada was blown off the ship by an explosion during the attack. The following March, the man came into the hospital complaining of shortness of breath. McAnany took an X-ray which revealed a machine gun bullet lodged in the man's lung. He said the man probably had caught the bullet during the attack but hadn't noticed it due to the adrenaline in his system. Surgeons removed the bullet and the man kept it on a chain until his death a few years ago.

McAnany served on hospital ships throughout the war. He helped treat the wounded from virtually every major engagement of the Pacific War, from the Coral Sea and Midway to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He served until 1958, a stint that included a tour of duty in the closing months of the Korean War.

When he speaks to school groups today, McAnany said he's disappointed by the lack of historical knowledge he sees. During a visit to a high school a few years ago, none of the students there recognized the names of Gen. Douglas MacArthur or Admirals Chester Nimitz or William Halsey.

"The number of guys that got whacked in the war, and the things they went through so that these kids can be where they are," he said. "It's just a waste of time."

When he tells his stories of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war in general, McAnany said he hopes people understand how useless war is.

"It's just like a fight," he said. "If you and I are battling it out here out on the street and I get the best of you, the next thing you know, the next time we meet, you're going to try to get the best of me. So it never ends."

Here's an extended interview with Bill McAnany:

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