Remembering Pearl Harbor

Seventy-one years ago Friday, on Dec. 7, 1941, Thomas Talbott was in as fine a mood as he can remember.

He was 19, a Marine corporal stationed on the balmy Hawaiian island of Oahu. His unit, assigned to secure the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, was set to return home soon. And as he manned his post at water's edge, things were so still he could hear the ticking of the Bulova watch he'd bought two days before.


Then all hell broke loose.

A squadron of planes appeared over the nearby hills, roaring down on the harbor. On their sides he saw the Japanese rising sun insignia. As bombs began to drop, "everyone was screaming and running hither and yon, everything on fire," recalled Talbott of the attack that killed 2,390 Americans, sank or damaged most of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific and persuaded a nation to go to war.


Talbott spent the next several hours trying to save sailors who, having jumped from their ships, ended up in the midst of flaming oil slicks in the water.

"I still have dreams about that day," said Talbott, 90, who will share these and other memories when he speaks at an event commemorating Pearl Harbor Day in Baltimore Friday.

Sponsored by the nonprofit organization Historic Ships of Baltimore, the free event will take place at noon aboard the Coast Guard cutter Taney, which is moored at Pier 5 in the Inner Harbor.

It's no coincidence that the festivities will be on the Taney, which was launched from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1936.

One of four vessels owned by Historic Ships of Baltimore, the 327-foot craft was on patrol in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941, protecting a vital power plant as the invasion unfolded.

It's the only ship fighting in Hawaii that day that is still afloat.

"The real reason to keep these ships going isn't just that they're beautiful, but that they're reminders of the conflicts we've had over the years as a nation and of the dedication of the people who served aboard them," said Paul Cora, the curator of historic vessels for Historic Ships of Baltimore, which also owns the Constellation, the submarine Torsk and the lightship Chesapeake.

Before World War II, the Taney was used to catch opium smugglers and carry out search-and-rescue missions in the central Pacific. In the early 1940s, the Coast Guard equipped it with machine guns and depth-charge racks, assigning it to a Navy destroyer division.


The Coast Guard used the vessel in waters around the world through 1986, when it decommissioned the Taney and donated it to the City of Baltimore.

The ship now features a Pearl Harbor exhibit that includes a 2001 documentary film that plays on a continuous loop.

The Taney has played host to Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies since the late 1970s, Cora said, a tradition his organization and its predecessors have continued since the ship arrived in town, always inviting Maryland survivors to attend.

Over the past few years, as more and more such veterans died or grew too infirm to travel, fewer and fewer have been able to come.

Christopher Rowsom, executive director of Historic Ships of Baltimore, said Talbott may be the only Pearl Harbor survivor to attend this year.

The veteran will deliver a short address, as will the keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, adjutant general of the Maryland Army National Guard.


Talbott hasn't planned his remarks, but he figures they may well center on a lesson that has stayed with him for 71 years.

"Stay alert and never take anything for granted," he said. "I've remembered that every day of my life since. You never know what the next step will bring."

The Bulova he wore that day, he added, is still ticking.

Pearl Harbor Day Ceremony

Where: USCGC Taney, Pier 5 at the Inner Harbor


When: Noon-1 p.m. Friday

Events include: Commemorative wreath-drop into the water; tolling of bells to commemorate those killed at Pearl Harbor; honor guard and 21-gun salute; speeches by Thomas Talbott, Pearl Harbor veteran, and Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, adjutant general, Maryland Army National Guard; ceremonial taps.