CANTON — Adone "Cal" Calderone recalls the details like it was yesterday.

The fire. The confusion. The Japanese Zeros, raining down death from above. The unthinkable sight of American warships listing and sinking into the waters at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

Stark County's last known living Pearl Harbor survivor, Calderone, 98, was one of about 50 people who turned out Friday at the American Legion Post 44 to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the attack.

Calderone was a young sailor serving on the USS West Virginia when the Japanese swooped in, killing a total of 2,403 military personnel and civilians and wounding 1,178.

Before a riveted audience, Calderone talked about being trapped on his ship after it was bombed, and the circumstances leading up to the attack, noting that several opportunities were missed to organize a defense.

"The reason our ships were in Pearl Harbor that day is because we didn't go to sea without aircraft carriers," he explained. "We thought there was something wrong. Sailors are not stupid. They could figure out something was going on, but we didn't know."

He bristles at suggestions that the rank-and-file was asleep prior to the attack.

 

Death and confusion

 

"The reason we had a problem with Pearl Harbor is the fact that some people did not do their jobs," he said. "Not the admirals, not the sailors, not the chiefs. It was middle command, afraid to do their jobs. All the warnings we had at Pearl Harbor were from Pearl Harbor, not from Washington."

At 3 a.m., when a periscope was detected in the waters, Calderone said, it wasn't reported to headquarters. At 6 a.m. when a warden spotted a midget submarine, he did report it to headquarters.

"They did confirm it, 60 years later, when they found it," he said, to laughter.

At 7 a.m., two radar operators picked up a mass of planes 150 miles away. Calderone said that when they reported it to headquarters, they were told it was a fleet of B-16 and B-17s.

"They were told, 'Don't worry about it,' " he said.

There also was an order to move the base's airplanes from hangars onto the airfield for fear that Japanese living in Hawaii could sabotage them. Most were destroyed.

"The only airplanes flying over Pearl Harbor were the Japanese; 300 of them," Calderone said.

Calderone said the USS Enterprise dispatched more planes that night, but they were shot down by friendly fire.

"That's how confusing it was," he said.

The USS West Virginia took eight torpedoes and four bombs, he said. Japanese archives revealed that the midget sub fired the first torpedo at 7:55 a.m.

Calderone was wounded and briefly hospitalized.

"I'll never forget the street lined up with guys not so much wounded, but burnt from fire," he said.

Calderone also took part in the Battle of Midway. The USS West Virginia was repaired, eventually earning five battle stars. It was one of two ships present at Japan's surrender ceremony.

"Scared? I'm still scared. That's the way it was at the time. We had tremendous casualties, but we destroyed the Japanese," he said.

 

Greatest Generation

 

Guest speaker Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Aaron Burnham said he is committed to reminding people about Pearl Harbor.

"This is personal for me," he said. "The men and women of the Greatest Generation are my heroes."

Mayor Thomas Bernabei, a Vietnam veteran, also was among the speakers.

"We commemorate today because because it was the day that defined America and changed the world," he said. "Dec. 7, 1941, marked Day One of the Greatest Generation. They not only won World War II, they came home and built America into what it is today."