EDITOR’S NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, Pat Falvo’s name was misspelled on two references. That has been corrected, and is reflected below.
ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – Every year, the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor fades further into history. Every year, there are fewer people to describe first hand the events we now only see in black and white photos.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of the tail sections of the B-17′s were all burned up,” former USAAF member Pat Falvo said, referring to the picture of an American bomber left with only the forward part of its fuselage after the Japanese attack. “You know why? Flares.”
Falvo’s B-17 bombers carried emergency flares prior to the war. The flares would have been used to guide rescuers had the plane gone down in the ocean. Those flares burst into flames when the Japanese strafed Hawaii’s Hickam Field. The night before the attack, Hickam Field relaxed a week-long high alert and Falvo’s planes were removed from their safe shelter in dispersed areas and returned to the Hickam Field flight line.
“They called us in on a Saturday and lined them up, one two three,” with the planes parked wing tip to wing tip, Falvo said. “And the Japs got ‘em, one two three, too. The second attack came in and they came in with the bombers. And of course the Zeroes.”
The Zero was Japan’s notoriously deadly fighter plane that dominated Pacific skies during the early part of the war. “Every time the Zeroes came around we’d go on the ground. And they did that quite a bit. Because they tore those planes up pretty good. We had a captain. He was from World War I. And after that he assembled us. That didn’t last but about five seconds. And here comes a Zero and we took off. He did too. I hope he made it out. I don’t know,” Falvo said.
Of the airman at Hickam Field that day there are only a few left to tell the story, and fewer still who seem to listen. “They don’t seem to care,” Falvo said sadly. “I don’t know why.”