On this 69th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, one survivor and Coast Guard veteran is still serving his country and being cited for his superior contributions.
At age 93, George C. Larsen is the president of the Pearl Harbor Survivor Association San Francisco Bay Area Chapter 2 and, more than 60 years after his service, was recently promoted to honorary Chief Petty Officer for his continued contributions to the Coast Guard community. Regularly conducting public speaking events and unit visits, Larsen shares his experiences and tells stories of his Coast Guard service during the Pearl Harbor attack and World War II.
It was early 1941 and Larsen had already served almost two years when he found himself on duty as a radioman at Coast Guard Radio Station Honolulu in the Diamond Head Lighthouse just east of Pearl Harbor. Taking an oath of silence not to tell anyone what he worked on, Larsen learned what he called the “Orange Code” deciphering top-secret Japanese military code.
On that fateful day in December, Larsen awoke to the rattling and shaking of his building. At first he mistakenly thought it was an earthquake, and it wasn’t until he went out the station’s back door and saw planes flying overhead that he knew something wasn’t right.
“There were three planes flying below the rim of Diamond Head, about 500 feet above me in ‘V’ formation, low-wing type with big red dots on the underside about 2 feet in diameter,” noted Larsen in a Coast Guard Memoir. “They flew right over me, as they disappeared towards Pearl Harbor.”
In the chaotic and frantic moments that followed, Larsen and his fellow radiomen tried to make sense of the scene unfolding in front of their eyes.
“We could see the entrance to Pearl Harbor out of one window and the Pacific Ocean westward out of another window. I had a fairly good picture of what those Japanese planes were doing,” noted Larsen. “The first thing I witnessed was three huge geysers of water shooting straight up for about 75 feet, each geyser about 25 feet apart in line from each other.”
On the morning of December 8, Larsen was ordered to the 190-foot buoy tender, CGC Kukui (WAGL-225), to help the crew pull harbor lights out of the water to black out the islands. After dodging a suspected Japanese submarine to complete the mission, the Kukui crew was then called to help the Army recapture Niihau Island after a Japanese fighter pilot who crashed on the Island had taken control of the natives. Upon successful recapture, Kukui was further tasked with marking shipping hazards in the harbor before returning to port.
“It was an ugly sight, being on loud speaker radio watch I was able to view all the damage that had been done,” recalled Larsen.
Following his time on Kukui, Larsen continued to serve on the 125-foot patrol craft, CGC Tiger (WSC-152), and eventually discharged from service in 1945.
Through his storytelling, Larsen keeps alive the memories of his some 2,400 shipmates who lost their lives on this day 69 years ago. His words pay respect to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
“Pearl Harbor Day serves as a stark reminder of the challenges the men and women of our armed services face on a daily basis, as they stand in harm’s way defending our liberty,” said Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Bob Papp. “I hope you will respect these lost Shipmates, by taking a moment to remember and reflect upon their service to our Nation.”