By Monique Sawyer-Lang
Lyons Redstone Museum
Charles P. Swift was born and raised in Lyons and graduated from Lyons High School in 1932. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1937 and was a radioman on the destroyer U.S.S Phelps stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii when it was attacked by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Below is the excerpt from his diary of that day. The original diary on display at the Lyons Redstone Museum has been transcribed by the museum and is available to read in its entirety at the museum. The following transcription is as written by Charles Swift including grammar, spelling, and use of colloquialisms of the time.
December 7, 1941 – Sunday
Pearl Harbor - At about 0745 this morning I was awakened by the general alarm for general quarters. I decided it wasn’t a drill by the look on everyone’s face, so I hopped out of my bunk, scrambled up the ladder to the topside.
I looked around and saw planes diving from out of the sun, and when they got closer I could see they were Jap planes by the insignia on the fuselage and wings. We were caught with our pants down there is no doubt about it. The first thing they went after was our battleships. I could see the old battle-wagon Utah keeling over and someone said she had been torpedoed. After twenty minutes you could see her roll over on the port side and sink with men crawling over her sides and bottom and sliding off into the water. When she finally settled all that could be seen was her keel and part of her screws and rudder.
In the meantime we had started firing our 1.1 at the planes and you could see them being hit all over. At this time I noticed the hangers at Ford Island burning badly. Also I could see black oily smoke rising from the section of ike bay around on the other side of the Island where the battle-ships were tied up. I could see another battleship sinking to the bottom and gutted with fire. It didn’t roll over and sink – just settled down.
At about 0945 we had a head of steam on and got underway. We dropped the hook in the bay and cut the cable aft. We were still under fire and the bay was covered with empty powder cans. The Monaghan got underway before we did as did all the second division due to the fact that we were along side the tender. We had two near misses off the stern and shrapnel from a bomb lodged in one fellow’s arm. It damaged our rudder and the screws shaft of another ship in division one.
After putting to sea at about 1000 we patrolled all day trying to find some Jap ships, but none could be found. Japs tried to send a landing force ashore at Nanakuli but Navy planes bombed them and Army got what was left. Tonight we patrolled in a night search and attack formation trying to find them but still no luck.
Before clearing the channel this morning the Monaghan sighted the periscope of a submarine that was preparing to fire at the seaplane tender Curtiss. She immediately prepared to ram the sub but the sub passed her and in passing over the sub the Monaghan sucked the sub under – then dropped two depth chargers on it. The sub sank fast. Later I learned that the Arizona was burned to a crisp and sunk. The W. Va. bombed and sunk. The Oklahoma torpedoed and capsized. The Cal torpedoed and sunk and the Nevada bombed so bad she was forced to beach herself. The Vestal also ran aground at Aiea.