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Miles among survivors at Pearl Harbor

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By Panzi Blackwell

Lets remember Pearl Harbor, as we go to meet the foe,

Lets remember Pearl Harbor, as we do the Alamo

Those were the words to a song that quickly rose to popularity following the infamous date of Dec. 7, 1941, the date of the attack of the Japanese on the American ships at Pearl Harbor, which instigated the involvement of the United States in World War II.

During that early morning surprise raid, which lasted just under two hours, eight American battleships were sunk or seriously damaged, along with 13 other naval vessels.

Seaman First Class Harold Miles, who was a young sailor aboard one of the ships attacked, consented to share his memories of that terrible morning, as this country observes the 66th anniversary of Pearl Harbor this week.

Sixty-six years after what President Franklin Roosevelt called a day of infamy, Miles modest, neat and comfortable Vandalia home holds evidence of many good memories through photographs of his family and mementos. He does not focus on the bad memories, although he still has mementos of some of them also.

Miles shared joined the Navy at the age of 19 in 1939, and recalled the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack.

On Dec. 7, I was sitting at the mess table, getting ready for breakfast all dressed in the uniform of the day, he said. Then an alarm went off. The general alarm was a fire on Ford Island.

I ran topside and looked over there, and, sure enough, there was a fire on Ford Island. I ran back down and changed into my dungarees, because I figured I would have to go. While I was there, someone ran in and yelled, The (Japanese) are bombing us!

Miles said that some were skeptical, but the man reporting said, I spent eight years in an Asiatic fleet, and I know a Japanese plane when I see one, and theyre dropping bombs!

Miles said, About that time, an anti-aircraft gun from the bottom of the ship was discharged, and everybody decided he was right. Everybody went topside to see what was going on.

I went to general quarters, thats where you went when the general alarm went off, to get your orders.

Ford Island was one of the first places attacked, and only one American was able to get off the Island that morning.

As the enemy planes kept flying over, they were fired upon by the U.S. ships anti-aircraft guns. Miles said his ship, the U.S.S. Gamble, was credited with shooting down one plane.

The U.S.S. Gamble received some damage and needed repairs, but survived to patrol the area for the Japanese mini-submarines that were reported in the waters. Miles has photographs of some of those submarines.

The U.S.S. Gamble survived the Pearl Harbor attack to serve in other battles. The ship was lost at Iwo Jima during a later battle.

The ship got hit the night before the invasion by a Japanese night bomber. A sea-going tugboat picked up the survivors, including Miles.

Miles received an honorable discharge as a seamans mate first class, having served six years and three days.

In Civilian Life

Harold, originally from Missouri, and his late wife, Helen, were married in 1920, when he was home on leave. They settled in Vandalia after the service, in the same house he still lives in, after a lot of repairs and remodeling.

It was originally a two-room house, he said. Someone added an old school on the back, and we did a lot of work on it.

In Vandalia, Miles worked for years as a mechanic, shop foreman and sales manager. He recalled working at the Chrysler-Plymouth dealership (across from Arthur Youngs present site), Bitzer Motors (where Rainbow Wash is now located), and Vandalia Motors. He later owned and managed a service station on East Gallatin Street, which he bought from long-time owner Wendell Peyton.

He and wife had two children, daughter Patty (White) and son John Miles. After retirement, Harold and Helen enjoyed traveling, until her death in February.

Harold enjoys looking through his photo albums of their travels and also of his collection of long-ago mementos.

He received an invitation, along with three other veterans of World War II, to attend a dinner honoring his Navy service.

Harold Miles is a quiet, unassuming man, not given to sharing stories of the war, like so many others who served sacrificially and honorably.

But if you happen to see him this Friday, Dec. 7, the 66th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, let him know in some way that you still remember Pearl Harbor.