“Drop the anchor here,” Troy said to Mark. “We’re at the spot.” They were about 450 yards off of Kokio Beach between the radio tower and the left stack of the Hawaiian Electric Company.
Troy tossed the anchor off the bow of the Boston Whaler, feeding the line out while the anchor plummeted ninety feet, feeling the anchor’s movements through the line as it searched across the bottom for an outcropping to grasp. The line tightened and the boat swung into the waves as Troy looped his end in a figure eight around a cleat. Mark cut the engine and threw out the float with the red and white diver’s flag.
“Alright, let’s go!”
Troy stuck his left thumb and forefinger into his mouth and removed his Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Retrieving the wrapper from his dive bag, he wadded the gum and paper into a ball and tossed it into the bag.
The two men quickly donned their scuba gear. Each took a quick suck from his regulator to check the airflow before splashing into the blue Pacific.
Troy followed the anchor line down to check its purchase in the rock. Then, the two headed toward a murky shadow just at the far end of their range of visibility. The bottom smoothed with sand rippling where currents shaped it.
Here and there, were lines in the sand as straight as if someone trailed a stick behind him. At one end was a little mound like a miniature volcano forming in the sand. At the other end was a slight depression. Mark scooped his hand through a depression with his fingers wide apart. His face crinkled into a grin as he brought his hand up displaying the Marlin Spike auger with its cream, orange, and brown stripes.
They swam on. The murky shadow took on the shape of an airplane resting on its belly in the sand growing speckles of algae and tendrils of seaweed. A flock of Moorish idols hovered near the damaged tail, lending distinction to the dark blue of the plane with their black and yellow striped bodies.
Mark looked through a jagged hole in the fuselage, surprising a bright yellow tang that darted off a few feet before turning to face the intruder.
Troy swam over to the left side of the cockpit just in time to see a small octopus scuttle from the edge of the seat towards the back of the plane.
His eyes ran over the canopy that was slid back. Algae and seaweed were growing in the crevices where glass met metal. There was an unidentifiable mass affixed to the middle portion of the canopy. Troy grasped the edge of the canopy and pulled it forward, poking his head under it to get a better look at the grayish-white stuff.
“Oh, funny,” he thought.
It looked just like chewing gum. Troy shoved the canopy back.
He tried to slide into the pilot’s seat but the tank on his back thudded against the seat back. Troy hesitated, gauging the distance to the wing outside the cockpit. Satisfied that it was worth the try, his fingers curled under the release of his belt buckle. Shrugging out of the tank’s harness, he leaned the tank against the outside of the cockpit as he slid into the pilot’s seat. Resting his fins against the pedals, Troy’s eyes scanned the instrument panel as his left hand grasped the control stick...
Explosions and gunfire ripped the Sunday morning calm of December 7, 1941. Hanger number six was engulfed with flames. Twenty-year-old Captain Luke Palmer shoved a stick of Juicy Fruit gum into his mouth as he ran to his F4F-3A Wildcat fighter. Settling into the cockpit, he signaled to a ground crewman that he was ready to go.
“BRRRUP, BRRRUP, BRRROOMMM.” The plane’s engine started.
Wheeling down the runway, Luke was amazed at the carnage that wrecked Pearl Harbor.
“Damn Japs!” hissed from his gritted teeth as he took off. The bicep of his well-muscled arm bulged as he cranked the handle the twenty-nine turns necessary to get the landing gear up while he gained altitude.
Billowing pillars of black smoke mottled the clear blue Hawaiian sky. Battleship Row was devastated. The U.S.S. Oklahoma turned turtle. The U.S.S. West Virginia and Tennessee were ablaze. The Arizona buckled after the forward powder magazine exploded and sunk in its berth alongside Ford Island. The battleship Nevada was making its way out of Pearl Harbor to the relative safety of the open sea. Up ahead, Zeros buzzed and darted about hoping to sink a destroyer to block the harbor’s entrance.
With nearly half of the seventy aircraft on Ford Island devastated or otherwise unable to fly, only two naval aircraft were in the air. It was a case of attack and run.
Luke went after a Zero. The red circle behind the cockpit of the plane made it an easy bulls-eye.
“RAT-A-TAT-TAT!” Luke fired and the Zero exploded into flames. “One!” he exclaimed.
“WHIZZ-ZING!” He sensed, rather than heard, bullets passing him. Dipping his left wing, Luke banked sharply, verifying that a Zeke was on his tail. Climbing upward, he nosed his plane up and over backwards in a loop coming down behind his attacker.
“RAT-A-TAT-TAT!” Luke’s bullets sheared the right wing and tail of the Zero. Lopsided and crippled, it tumbled downward.
“Two! Come on, three!” Luke climbed out of the confusion of the smoky skies over Pearl Harbor. His gray eyes caught sight of Matthew Thurman below, racing across the sky with a Japanese Zero on his tail. Luke set an intercept course for the Zero and put his Wildcat into a dive. Closing in, he could see the young Japanese pilot’s uplifted face.
“RAT-A-TAT-TAT!” The Wildcat pulled up out of its dive and climbed again. Jagged holes appeared in the Zero and the Japanese pilot slumped over his control stick.
Suddenly, a Zero appeared on Luke’s tail. Leveling out his climb, he increased his airspeed to over 320 miles per hour, trying to shake him. Matthew fell in behind the pair, willing his plane to get close enough for a shot.
“RAT-A-TAT-TAT!” Matthew got it!
“WHIZZ-ZING!” Three Zeros converged on Matthew! He, too, began a desperate run.
Luke broke away to the right, circling to come back onto the Zeros. He set his sights on the closest one.
“Let’s make it four, baby!”
“RAT-A-TAT-TAT!” Luke’s guns spoke.
“Four! Yee-hah! Ride’um, cowboy!”
One of the Zekes turned on Luke, chasing him out over Barber’s Point. Luke climbed into the beginning of a loop, then snapped-rolled to the left. The Zero followed. Luke dove towards the ocean, pulling up within a few hundred feet from the surface to race above the waves. The Zero followed.
Move for move, the Zero matched the Wildcat.
Sweat drenched Luke’s shirt, plastering his wavy, blond hair to his head.
Luke spiraled upwards as the Zero closed the distance between them. Tighter and tighter he flew to force his enemy to break away from the pressure of the gravitational pull.
Third spiral...fourth spiral...heart pounding, temples throbbing, eyes stinging from his pouring sweat, Luke clenched his teeth against the pain.
Fifth spiral...sixth spiral...the Zero still clung to his tail.
Luke had to have relief from the agony. He broke out of his seventh spiral diving sharply to the right. The Zero cut across the sky, firing wildly.
“WHIZZ-ZING! WHIZZ-ZING!” Luke’s Wildcat was hit. Holes appeared along the fuselage.
“WHIZZ-ZING! WHIZZ-ZING!” The Wildcat’s rudder and tail were ripped to shreds.
Ribbons of smoke streaming from his plane, Luke headed up the Waianae coastline, setting the Wildcat on a glide slope for a watery landing. His fingers worked quickly to free him from the shoulder harness holding him to the seat. Sticking his left thumb and forefinger in his mouth, Luke removed his chewing gum and stuck it overhead on the canopy before sliding it back.
He stood on the seat and stepped out of the cockpit onto the left wing.
Luke flung his body off the wing, spread-eagled. Counting to ten, he pulled his ripcord. Jerked from free-fall, he floated down beneath the parachute’s white canopy watching his Wildcat plunge into the ocean off Kokio Beach.
Moments later, Luke splashed down, plunging beneath the blue waves. Weighted down by his parachute, he kicked upwards, breaking the surface just as a salty wave slapped him in the face. Gasping for air, he struggled to extricate himself from the parachute’s harness. As it sank, Luke treaded water, taking in deep breaths and exhaling slowly to calm himself. Then, he began the long swim to shore...
Troy felt a tap on his shoulder. Blinking his gray eyes with a little shake of his head, he turned to look at his buddy while releasing the stick. Mark pointed at his wristwatch and jerked his thumb upwards. Troy checked his watch. Wow! Nearly twenty minutes had passed since they left the boat. “Yes,” he nodded at Mark. They had to leave now to avoid a decompression stop on the way up.
Slipping on his tank and securing the belt buckle took just a few seconds. Mark Thurman and Troy Palmer kicked their way upward towards their boat.
Looking back, Troy saw his dad’s airplane slip into an obscure shadow before disappearing from sight.
What a dive!
Read the first Journal entry
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