That Infamous Morning
Pearl Harbor Survivor Robert Lloyd Remembers
BY PAT HILL
December brings up more than holiday memories for 91-year -old Robert Lloyd of Dayton, Nevada. Lloyd, who passes through Bozeman once or twice a year while journeying to visit relatives in Baker, Montana, survived the attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that marked the United States’ entry into World War II, and went on to serve his country until 1960.
Lloyd was a buck private in the 22nd Material Squadron, Army Air Corps, serving at Hickam Field on the morning of December 7, 1941.
“I enlisted in the Army [in Pennsylvania] in 1939,” Lloyd told the Pioneer. “I was originally going to go in the Navy to be a machinist, but the Army said, ‘We have machinists, too.’ I asked for the Army Air Corps and got it.”
By December of 1941, the “Hawaiian Air Force” that Lloyd became a part of included 754 officers, 6,706 enlisted men, and 233 aircraft scattered between Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and Bellows Field.
The job Lloyd and his fellow soldiers in the 22nd Material Squadron were performing at Hickam was a classified one in those months leading up to the war in the Pacific theater. Hickam Field was the only Army Air Base on Oahu large enough to accommodate the B-17 Flying Fortress bombers the United States was bringing to Hawaii in accordance with military defense plans in the event war broke out with Japan. Lloyd’s 22nd Material Squadron was responsible for maintenance on the big bombers, whose presence on the island was classified; the first 21 B-17s to arrive in Hawaii, flown in from Hamilton Field, California, arrived at Hickam Field on May 14, 1941.
“We got called to the flight line at 7:00 a.m. [on Dec. 7],” said Lloyd. “We were expecting another classified flight, and were there in case the B-17s needed any maintenance.” The radar intercept picked up at 7:00 that morning, however, prompting his unit’s action, was not the expected flight of B-17s; in reality the radar signal was the first wave of fighter planes the Japanese had dispatched from a carrier battle group the American forces were unaware of. At 7:55, signal tower personnel contacted Rear Admiral Kimmel, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, informing him that the flight was an enemy air raid—not a drill, and the attack was on (a day that President Franklin Roosevelt, in an address to the nation, would famously call a date which will live in infamy).
That first wave included 49 bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, 51 dive bombers, and 36 fighter aircraft. That initial attack on the fleet and the three airfields lasted 30 minutes. Lloyd said the attack certainly took his unit by surprise.
“They [the Japanese] knew what they were up to,” said Lloyd. “Our hangar was one of the first hits at Hickam…my squadron was mostly sitting around in the hangar waiting for the B-17s when the hangar was hit with a bomb. The hangar doors blew off with the blast, and the doors fell on them…my squadron lost 22 men that morning.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor was over by 9:45 a.m., after a second wave of enemy attack aircraft consisting of 54 more bombers, 78 dive-bombers, and 36 fighters. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor and other facilities on Oahu, American casualties stood at 2,403 servicemen and civilians dead, and another 1,178 wounded. The Japanese sank six battleships and damaged two more, also destroying three light cruisers and three destroyers; four other vessels were damaged as well. One-hundred sixty four American aircraft were destroyed, and another 128 sustained damage.
“After the attack, I became a flyer,” said Lloyd. “I flew missions in North Africa and then in Italy.” After World War II, Lloyd also flew on combat missions in Korea.
“I flew 16 different airplanes in 17 years,” he said. “The [Lockheed] P-38 [Lightning fighter] was the first plane I flew. I liked flying the B-25 bombers…they were a good easy airplane to fly. I took part in 62 missions total, and retired from the Air Force in 1960.”
There aren’t many veterans left from the attack on Pearl Harbor, let alone survivors of the attack on Hickam Air Field itself. Like Lloyd himself, those men left are usually only noticed by the public because of the blue ball caps that identify them as Pearl Harbor survivors.
“I’m about the only one left it seems sometimes,” Lloyd said.