Exactly 15 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt described Dec. 7 as a "day that will live in infamy."
Ex-Sgt. Raymond A. Heilman, 37, of 1016 Spring Garden St., Allentown, agrees, and he ought to know.
He was there.
He heard and saw the Japanese air units paralyze the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. He watched his comrades drop and die. He fired back futilely but repeatedly while the Zeroes cut Hickam Field, its buildings, its planes and its men to shreds.
Heilman was stationed at Hickam with the 11th Bombardment Group of the 7th Army Air Force.
Recalling the Japanese attack in an interview with The Morning Call last night, Heilman said, "I was asleep at the time. When the first bombs fell, I thought it was the guns of a nearby fort in a training session.
"Suddenly I heard someone holler 'The Japs are attacking us.'
"I finished dressing out in front of the barracks. While I buttoned my shirt and pants, I looked up and saw a Jap fighter strafing the field in front of me. I jumped through the doorway, back into the barracks. As soon as the plane had flashed overhead, we all scattered across the field, searching for cover and looking for something to fight back with.
"We got our hands on some rifles and machine guns. I didn't shoot any of them down myself, but some of the boys did. It was just an effort we made. The surprise caught us off guard and we took a beating.
"I took cover behind a concrete retaining wall near the baseball diamond. My buddy, Sgt. Roger Garrett of Peoria, Ill., headed for the tennis court area in the other direction, but he didn't make it. He was killed.
"We were stunned. For about four hours, the Japs kept it up. The worst of it was over by noon. None of the guys felt bitter. We were just shocked. We knew that somebody, somewhere, had fouled up. We didn't know who. We just wondered how long it would last and where we'd get new equipment to fight with.
"A few minutes after the attack began, a bunch of us headed toward our own bombers, thinking we might be able to get them into the air. But we met our C.O. coming back from the field. He told us it was no use.
"Our planes were shot to pieces on the ground.
"But that problem was practically solved before the attack had ended.
"A lot of brand new B17s arrived that morning from the States. They couldn't land at either Hickam or Wheeler fields, so they set them down in cane fields -- anywhere they could land.
"And the next day, most of those planes were back in the air, searching for Japs. But they had sneaked back to their holes."
While most post-battle accounts that reached Stateside eulogized the heroic defense of the startled GIs, Heilman's most vivid impression was of civilians:
"They were construction workers. They didn't have to be out there at the field. But they commandeered buses in the wholesale lots from a Honolulu transit company and they drove out to the field, packed women and children into them and drove back to the city or up into the hills. They were some of the bravest men I've ever seen -- and I'll never forget them."
Heilman, who was married to the former Helen Huber of Allentown in November 1945, has been out of uniform since September 1945. He's now a sheet metal worker at Air Products Inc., Emmaus. The Heilmans have three children, Donna, 11, Gregg, 8, and Wendy, 3.
Of Pearl Harbor Day, Heilman says, "I wouldn't want to go through it again. I hope the men in charge of our forces today will be alert every minute. I hope they won't let anything like that happen again."