December 7, 2012

Relic from Pearl Harbor to be unveiled in Maine

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Seventy-one years ago Friday, Japanese fighter planes attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

click image to enlarge

Bert Davis, a veteran who lived through attack on Pearl Harbor, with a rusted piece of steel from the USS Arizona, which will be unveiled Friday in Maine on the 71st anniversary of the attack.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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SURVIVOR HAD NIGHTMARES 
ABOUT PEARL HARBOR ATTACK

Bert Davis was a crew member on a Navy destroyer that survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, he volunteered to take a boat out to the USS Arizona and pick up survivors.

Davis, who lived in Cumberland until five years ago, now lives at the Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris. He’s 93 and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and is unable to talk about that day.

In 2001, he described his experience in a story that was published by National Geographic: “I could see floundering around in the water after the attack ... And we’d get there and some of the people would be dead. And I remember one fella that – I never will forget this one – about him reaching up for the gunnel, trying to get out with his hand coming up. And I reached down to help him, and I grabbed him right around his arm and I started pulling and all the skin came right off in my hand.

But that’s the thing that sticks in my mind all the time and I have nightmares sometimes about it. But you try and you do your best.”

Dec. 7 was always an important day for Davis, said his wife, Jo Davis of Falmouth. Every year, he visited Fort Allen Park on Munjoy Hill in Portland. The park is home to the mast of the USS Portland, a heavy cruiser commissioned by the Navy in 1933.

The Portland was the only U.S. ship to participate in all four Pacific aircraft carrier battles of 1942.

“Whether it was snowing or the wind was roaring, he had to be there, and I made sure he was,” she said. “I always promised him, if he was unable to go, I would be there, and I have kept that promise. I will be there.”

– Staff Writer Tom Bell

The assault claimed the lives of more than 2,500 people, nearly half of whom died on the battleship USS Arizona, which exploded and sank after it was hit four times by Japanese bombs.

The wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

At 1 p.m., the time it was in Maine when the Japanese attacked, a small section of the ship's deckhouse superstructure will be unveiled at the Maine Veterans' Home in South Paris.

It's not much to look at – a rusted and bent piece of metal 32 inches long and 14 inches wide, with several welded rivets visible. But the relic is a symbol of the sacrifice of the 1,177 crewmen who were killed that day, including 23 sets of brothers and all 22 members of the ship's band.

"It's a real piece of American history," said Joel Dutton, the administrator of the veterans home. "It's the most significant loss of life the Navy has ever suffered, and (the relic) is a great representation of that."

Residents of the home and other veterans will commemorate the attack Friday by singing the national anthem, and members of the Western Maine Veterans Advisory Committee will serve as the color guard.

Sections of the ship's superstructure were removed from Pearl Harbor in 1961 to allow for the construction of the USS Arizona Memorial, said Daniel Martinez, chief historian of the memorial in Honolulu. The sections were dumped on Navy property on the Waipio Peninsula, on the island of Oahu, where they remained forgotten and undisturbed for years.

In 1992, through an act of Congress, pieces of the Arizona's rusting superstructure were released to qualified organizations. Many went to museums, such as the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

The staff at the Maine Veterans' Home in South Paris asked the staff of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to help it obtain a section of the USS Arizona.

The staff historian of Navy Region Hawaii was encouraged to quickly approve the proposal.

Snowe said Thursday that she is "incredibly pleased" that the relic is now at the veterans home.

"It is certainly fitting that South Paris is now home to this piece of American history, honoring all who lost their lives aboard the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941," she said.

Dutton said a display case was made for the relic so veterans can bring it to schools throughout the region, display it and tell the story of what happened on that day.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at

tbell@pressherald.com

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