Eyewitness to History
by Captain Joseph K. Taussig, Jr.
Pearl Harbor's WWII Collector's Edition|
The Official 50th Anniversary Magazine-1991
The Flag-raising ceremony was underway aboard the battleship Nevada on the morning of December 7th, 1941 when the band's rendition of the National Anthem was drowned out by the sound of approaching Japanese planes. As the planes attacked, Ensign Joseph K. Taussig, Jr., officer of the deck, watched incredulously as his color guard and band were strafed.
Recalling the events years later, Taussig maintains that the element of surprise was "not" the reason the US Pacific Fleet was defeated that day. According to Taussig, "In 45 seconds I was up the six ladders of the mast to my battle station. Even before I reached it, our anti-aircraft batteries were already firing! Our men were both well-trained and ready!"
Why did the US Navy take such a dreadful licking? Our battleships were not outfitted with their full complement of anti-aircraft guns.
"It's remarkable that our batteries shot down any planes that day," says Taussig. Many of the ship's gun tubs were empty, those weapons still Stateside, bathed in protective grease and packed in crates, awaiting shipment to the Pacific.
"Once properly armed, American battleships were invulnerable to air attack." "For the remainder of the war, none were sunk by enemy aircraft." The real damage at Pearl Harbor, Taussig points out, was not caused by Japanese bombers, but by torpedo planes.
What would have happened if the Fleet had been warned and had time to sortie out to sea?
"All of the ships would have been sunk," says Taussig. "Those not killed in the attack would have drowned. Pearl was only 40 feet deep and the ships drew 35 feet, so when they sank they just settled on the bottom."
While at his battle station, Taussig was hit by a Japanese missile, which passed through his left thigh. "My left foot was grotesquely under my left armpit," Taussig remembers. He lost the leg but survived the war.
Despite the loss of his leg and the subsequent four years he spent in military hospitals, he holds no bitterness toward the Japanese. While teaching at Annapolis, he was able to meet Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilot who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The occasion was a visit paid by Fuchida several years ago to address the midshipmen.
"He was apprehensive that I wouldn't want to talk with him," Taussig recalls, "because of the severity of my wound. I told him we were both professional naval officers, doing our jobs at the time.
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