via: the sentinel

Sixty-eight years ago this morning, Jim Ford was finishing up his work as the butcher on the Navy ship USS Argonne. The sun had risen over Pearl Harbor, and America’s Pacific fleet was coming awake on a Sunday morning.

Ford, a petty officer second class, had been training a new crew member since 3 a.m. He had just showered and was about to head to shore, where he could get some sleep. But Ford wouldn’t get ashore that day, or for many of the uncertain days that followed.

At 7:55 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, leaving 2,403 Americans dead and 1,139 wounded.

“We didn’t have any guns on the ship,” Ford said of the Argonne, a converted craft repair ship launched in 1920. “It was a hell of a time not to have any guns. The Japanese were going for the big ships, though.”

The Argonne closed the hatches as the attack started. Ford watched through the portholes as Japanese planes swooped down on surrounding vessels. The Argonne had recently given its usual berth to the cruiser USS Helena, which was torpedoed amidships as the crew ran to battle stations. The blast killed 20 sailors

“I was dumbfounded,” he said. “Fortunately, we were trained for the job, regardless of what happened. We knew what we were supposed to do and where we were supposed to be, regardless of an attack. You don’t think too much about it. You’re doing your job. You may get a little scared, afterwards. I don’t know how to explain it. It was just

something else.”

 When the Argonne’s crew emerged from below deck after the attack, Ford saw a smoky, confusing scene. The severity of the attack began to dawn on him. The Argonne’s crew immediately got to work helping wounded men and recovering bodies from the water. Since the Argonne was undamaged, many of the surviving sailors were given safe haven on the vessel. Ford’s orders were to cook as much food as he could.

The attack that morning was a defining moment for the United States, changing public opinion about whether to join World War II. As some Japanese had warned, the surprise attack “awoke a sleeping giant.” In his declaration of war, the day after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would declare Dec. 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy.”

With “Remember Pearl Harbor” as a battle cry, the nation came together, built armed forces that destroyed and defeated Japanese forces on land, on the water and in the air. Emporer Hirohito surrendered in August 1945.

Today, Ford, 89, and his family will attend a Pearl Harbor remembrance at California Grill in Watsonville. The gatherings are typically a chance for survivors, family and the public to come together, Ford said, to remember the day and to dine together. Ford has kept in touch with the one remaining crew member who he knows is still alive.

Ford was born in Eva, Ala. His family then moved to Roswell, New Mexico. After the war, Ford stayed in the Navy, serving 20 years altogether.

Ford met his wife, Ruth, in 1945. She worked as a secretary to the ship’s services manager. They were married in Boston in 1947. The Fords moved often, living in Boston, Virginia, China Lake, Guantanamo Bay and the Philippines. After retiring from the service, Ford worked as a golf pro.

The Fords had three children, one of whom has since died, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

For a time in Jim and Ruth Ford’s lives, they traveled, constantly, eventually getting to all 50 states. At the Ford’s Aptos house, they have a map, labeled with the routes that they drove and pins designating the cities and towns they visited. They also have a large American flag inside the foyer.

Ford said that he rarely talks about his military service, even with his family.

“I haven’t told them a heck of a lot,” Ford said. “You just don’t feel like talking about it too much. It’s been so long.”

Ford’s wife, Ruth, said that every once in awhile, they take out old newspaper clippings and photos.

“All of these things do go through his mind periodically, but not constantly,” she said. “We’ve lived a very full life. We’ve done many things, gone to many places. It’s only around Pearl Harbor Day that we talk about it.”

John Ford, Jim’s son, said he doesn’t remember talking much about the war with his father.

“I asked him about it a number of years ago,” John Ford said. “He and my mom compiled a book of articles and photos in response to my questions. Sometimes, I see a look in his eye, and I remember that my dad was just this young kid with all this stuff going on around him. I try to remember that. You look back, though, and it’s one of the most pivotal moments in United States history.”

Jim Ford, who suffered a stroke about 10 years ago, remembers most of his time in the Navy fondly.

“Every time I think about the Navy, I think about the Argonne,” he said. “I don’t miss the tours at all. I just miss the people I served with.”

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