Anniversary marks painful memories

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Ted Shows of Georgiana had been stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii when he joined the Air Corps in 1940. He had been there just over a year when he heard the thunder of Japanese planes descending on the United States' military bases on the island. December 7 marks the 58 anniversary of the unprecedented attack.

Photo by Robert Blankenship

One of the darkest days in the history of the United States occurred 58 years ago when the unsuspecting soldiers and battleships stationed at a base in Hawaii was suddenly attacked by a group of Japanese warplanes.

Email newsletter signup

There were several Butler Countians in Hawaii on the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said "would live in infamy." Today only one of those men, Wilton Shows, is still here to pass on what happened on that rainy day on the small island of Oahu.

In 1940, the young Georgiana native joined the Army Air Corps (the Air Force as it would later be called after separating from the Army). He had spent most of his time between enlisting and December 7, exactly one year and four days, stationed in Hawaii.

Shows said he and the men that he served with were going about business as usual in the days leading up to the tragedy that would occur on Sunday morning.

"Everything was going very well. We did not expect anything," Shows said. "On Saturday night we were working on a semi-loader and everything was okay."

Shows would go to sleep that night and wake the next morning to an invitation from a friend to go to breakfast at the mess hall.

At the time, neither he, nor a few others, knew about a series of sounds from a radar.

At about 5 a.m., someone was working at a radar unit and he heard airplanes. He did not know what type of airplanes they were, just that he heard planes. No one really knows what happened, whether he ignored the message or if it did not think it was anything, but it did not get passed on. Things back then weren't like they are today, you had one person who was in charge of a lot of things," he said.

After a cup of coffee that morning, Shows said he was walking to the mess hall to meet his friend when he saw something he could never forget.

"Somewhere between the barracks and the mess hall, at about 7:55 in the morning, I began to hear a whining sound of aircraft. I thought at first it was our planes, but then I knew they weren't. I saw about 25 of them flying in a line and suddenly all hell broke lose," he said.

The barrage of bullets and swarming airplanes that all but annihilated Pearl Harbor seemed like it would never end. The first wave of Japanese aircraft began the attack. Along with the ships that sat at Pearl Harbor, the air stations at Hickam, Wheeler, Ford Island, Kaneohe and Ewa Field were attacked.

"It probably lasted only about ten minutes, but it seemed like it was much longer than that. They (Japanese) were everywhere you looked," he said.

For two hours and twenty minutes, Japanese aircraft bombed and shot up these military targets. When the second wave returned to their carriers, 2403 people had been killed and 1178 were wounded. Eighteen ships of different sizes had been sunk or damaged and 77 aircraft of all types had been destroyed.

Shows did not survive the attack without injury. He had sustained wounds to his legs and one of his fingers. After the attack, Shows made his way to a familiar setting.

"I had walked back and gone up the stairway to where my bed was," he said. "There were dead soldiers on both sides of my bed. It was at about that time that President Roosevelt came on the radio telling everyone else that we had been attacked and I listened to it there in my bedroom."

Shows' squadron had 37 planes that were intended to be dispatched on the following morning. They were all destroyed by the Japanese that day. He also said that five battleships were sunk, including the U.S.S. Arizona, which has become a symbol of that day as a memorial in Pearl Harbor.

Shows recovered from his wounds and would remain in the military for 22 years. Upon completion of his military career, Shows moved back to his hometown of Georgiana where he has lived ever since.