Excerpt from Oral History of LT Horace D. Warden, MC (Medical Corps), USN, Medical Officer Aboard USS Breese (DM-18) on 7 December 1941.
[Courtesy of Historian, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery]
You hadn't been trained as a surgeon previously?
I was actually assigned to Mine Division Two. The USS Breese (DM-18) was one of four destroyers in that division. The doctor I relieved had died so I became the medical officer of Mine Division Two, part of what they called the old "Pineapple Navy." We would go and practice laying mines for 2 weeks and then be in port for 2 weeks. I was riding on the Breese because that was the ship that had a stateroom for the doctor. During the 2 weeks we would be in port I would go to the Naval Hospital to get some more surgical experience.
What kind of sick bay did you have on the Breese?
We had a small sick bay on those old four-pipers, not much space, just enough for one hospital corpsmen to work in. It was very cramped but adequate.
Were you on the Breese that Sunday morning when the Japanese attacked?
Yes sir. On that Sunday morning we were moored to a buoy near Pearl City. I happened to be aboard the previous night because in those days they used to divide Pearl Harbor into three areas. There was supposed to be a doctor assigned to each area all night for medical coverage. It was my night to be aboard in Pearl City. I was due to go off duty at 8:00 on Sunday morning. I had changed into civilian clothes and was sitting on the deck for a whaleboat to take me to my car so I could get to breakfast at home on the far side of Honolulu. The Japanese hit at five minutes to eight and I never got off the ship.
Did you see them coming?
No. The first thing I remember was the sound of firing and then they called general quarters. We were not a large ship so we were not immediately threatened. After the Japanese delivered their bombs on the large ships they had to come up over us. That's when we got one of them with what I think was a 3-inch gun.
Did you see that happen?
No. I didn't see the plane get hit.
When you went to general quarters, your station was in the sick bay below decks?
Yes. But I didn't have time to get there. I remember one of our food handlers was milling around very upset and crying, a real basket case. We went to where we had the firearms stashed away and we got a rifle and gave it to him. Once he started shooting he was alright. The plane we had shot down landed right near us in the water. The pilot was still alive so they got a whaleboat to go rescue him. Apparently he made a move, put his hand under his vest or something, and so they killed him and then didn't have a live pilot to question. The sailor who shot him was told that he was going to get court-martialed. But later that all was quashed and there was no court martial.
We then tried to get underway and out of the harbor. Our ship was ready because we had the duty the night before, but we were tied to three other ships and they didn't have many people aboard on Sunday morning. So we had to wait until enough crew members arrived on these ships to get them out of the harbor.
Did you have any casualties to treat at this point?
None. After about an hour or an hour and a half we were out to sea and started to patrol looking for miniature subs and dropped depth charges. We stayed out about a week and then came back. I can't remember whether we ran out of food or fuel.
Anyway, we came back in to Pearl Harbor. Then we could see all the damage that had been done. Going out we couldn't see it because of where we were. While we were out we kept wondering why the big ships hadn't come out.
What did you think of all that damage?
It was just terrible. It was one of those things when you think, what's the world coming to? What's going to happen to us now? Everyone was all set to try to get even if we could, but my family was on the other end of Oahu so the first thing I wanted to do was get ashore and let them know that I was okay and find out that they were okay. That was probably the worst week of the war for me.
What did you do once you got back to Pearl?
We stayed there waiting for further orders. There was nothing really to do. I then got permission to go to the Naval Hospital to help out over there.
Did you still have a lot of casualties to deal with from the attack?
Yes. We still had surgery to do. One of the Japanese planes had crashed in the Naval Hospital yard and I have a piece of it.
Did you still go patrolling with the Breese?
Yes. We would go out for a few days patrolling looking for submarines and then come back to Pearl. I remember that on Christmas Day in 1941 we were tied right at Hospital Point, Meanwhile, my family came out to the Naval Hospital to have Christmas dinner with me. That was a wonderful occasion.
How long were you with Mine Division Two?
I was with that outfit for another year. We got to work laying mines throughout the South Pacific.