CLINTON — “Sunday in the Navy, back in those days, was called Holiday Routine. You took it easy at liberty, other than the fellas that had duty. This was before women were allowed on the ships,” Daniel Kramer, a resident of Clinton’s Prairie Hills, remembers.
“So I had the duty that day, and when general quarters sounded — that means man your battle stations. I thought it was some kind of nutty drill that the Air Force was bringing some planes in from the states.”
That Sunday, an 80-degree day in Hawaii, was Dec 7, 1941.
Seeing the ocean was “something special” for Kramer. Having grown up in Dubuque in the 1920s and 30s, he enlisted in the Navy.
On board the U.S.S. California on Dec. 7, 1941, Ensign Kramer at the time realized fast that the Air Force wasn’t overhead. The bombing of Pearl Harbor began. At the bridge, he attempted to make way to confront the Japanese forces.
“Matter of fact we did get underway, but we never got out of Pearl Harbor,” Kramer said. “We were hit with bombs and torpedos and sank in the mud with all the other battleships.
“The Oklahoma rolled over, and was bottoms up. The Arizona blew up and the only people that lived on the Arizona were those that were topside when it was blown in the water. There were about 1,100 guys that went up with that ship, which is just disgraceful.”
He had never seen war before.
Kramer had turned 21 in 1940, the year he enlisted. Months prior to December 1941, Kramer had married Mary Jane and they were honeymooning in California. She was to later meet him in Hawaii.
And then Pearl Harbor happened.
“She was in Long Beach waiting for a ship that she had a ticket to come on, and her father came and took her back to Dubuque,” he said.
On the day of the attack, Kramer remembers, the U.S.S. California “shuddered violently” from two strikes by torpedo. A bomb dropped, hitting the junior officers’ bunks. Five ensigns and 90 enlisted men died on his ship that day. The water was in flames, burning diesel fuel was creeping toward the California. Other ships that had been taken out were leaking fuel.
They were “sitting ducks, not ready for war,” he said.
“You can’t relax and say it’ll never happen again,” Kramer said, speaking generally about war. “That’s why you have to have an army and a navy and the Marine Corp and the Air Force. All these branches of service are to protect our country.
“You hope you never have to use them, but when you do, you need people trained because once it happens then it’s rough to get training done under those circumstances,” he said.
After the bombs stopped, Kramer was sent to Lake Washington shipyards on the West Coast then reassigned to a base in Key West, Florida. There he trained pilots in catapult and recovery from the sea in an aircraft.