Myrtle Watson

Myrtle M. Watson, an Army nurse whose indelible memories of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor remained with her for the rest of her life, died Feb. 11 of vascular disease at Oak Crest Village. The Northeast Baltimore resident was 98. (Baltimore Sun / December 6, 2010)

Myrtle M. Watson, an Army nurse whose indelible memories of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor remained with her for the rest of her life, died Feb. 11 of vascular disease at Oak Crest Village.

The Northeast Baltimore resident was 98.

Early in the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Mrs. Watson was busy working her first solo weekend assignment in the orthopedic ward at Schofield Hospital near Pearl Harbor, which was short-staffed because it was a weekend.

She began pushing bedridden men out to a second-story lanai so they could take in a barefoot inter-regimental football game that was to be played on the hospital lawn.

Mrs. Watson recalled in a 1981 Evening Sun interview that it was 7:45 a.m., when suddenly the roar of approaching airplanes filled the air, breaking the early-morning stillness.

"We heard the low sounds of planes coming overhead. We were really curious because there was no let-up," she told the newspaper.

As she watched the incoming planes, Mrs. Watson was accompanied by Jack, a young injured GI who was in love with her and affectionately called her "Chick," because of the head of carefully coiffed blond hair that she tucked under her nurse's cap.

"We were standing in the doorway looking at these planes and he said, 'I don't think they're our planes.' He was a sergeant and knew planes," recounted Mrs. Watson in the interview. "So he said, 'Chick, I think we're at war,' and I said, 'We couldn't be at war, someone would tell us.'"

He persisted, and suddenly Mrs. Watson began pushing beds back into the ward to get her patients to safety.

"Then the second group came over. We went back to look and they were so low we could see the Rising Sun. You know the pictures of the Japanese pilots with their scarves around their necks and bands around their foreheads? They were so close you could see that," she said.

Realizing they were targets standing on the lanai, her companion suddenly shoved her to the floor, just seconds before two enemy machine gun bullets ripped into a door frame where she had been standing.

Had her quick-thinking friend not taken action, Mrs. Watson would have lost her legs. She picked up the two bullets that had missed her and kept them for the next 70 years as a talisman.

As the strafing continued and with plaster falling from the ceiling and the building shaking, Mrs. Watson cut loose some of the patients who were in traction and piled mattresses around them for protection. She then climbed under a hospital bed to get out of harm's way.

What followed was unremitting chaos as the strafing and bombing continued. She could see heavy, oily black clouds of smoke rising skyward from Pearl Harbor.

For the next three days, Mrs. Watson seemingly worked nonstop, living on chocolate bars and coffee, caring for the wounded and dying who quickly filled hospital corridors. She did what she could, administering whiskey and morphine to the wounded.

Because of the attack, doctors and nurses had difficulty making their way to Schofield. Supplies ran low.

"There was no communication and we were so busy, we had no idea what had happened at Pearl Harbor, how bad it was there," she told The Baltimore Sun in a 1993 interview.

Late on the evening of Dec. 7, she recalled in a 2010 interview with The Baltimore Sun, the national anthem began playing on the nurses' station radio.

"In the middle of the ward," she said, "everyone who could stood at attention and saluted."