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12-07-05, 12:00 PM
Old essay recalls Pearl Harbor
'Screams of pain, moans of horror, and yells of terror.'
By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

WHITE OAK - When Walter Inskeep turns on his television today, he expects to see a mention or two of the anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

That's about all that reminds him anymore of December 7, 1941, when he was barely 19 and a yeoman on a repair ship. It was moored alongside the USS Arizona, which took a bomb in an ammunition magazine and couldn't be saved. That was 64 years ago - more than half a lifetime for the 83-year-old retired teacher, widower and grandfather.

But there was a day when the memories were fresh, fresh enough that he chose them for his first paper at the University of Cincinnati, and he wanted to do well. He needed to get his teaching degree fast so he could get out and earn some money. Upon graduation, he taught for Cincinnati Public Schools for 25 years.

So he wrote - first in longhand, then on a manual typewriter - what he knew he could conjure vividly.

In June 1946, his words earned an A-minus:

A thunderous, roaring explosion, followed almost simultaneously by a quivering, sickening shake of the U.S.S. Arizona, froze my feet to the deck.

My mind became clouded; then came the dawn. It was war. Another booming explosion from the Arizona, which seemed to shake the world, sent human bodies sailing into the sky as if they had wings. Screams of pain, moans of horror, and yells of terror were echoing throughout the Island of Oahu.

Twenty-one U.S. ships were sunk or damaged, 188 aircraft destroyed. The Arizona was hit by a bomb that blew up the forward ammunition magazine. The resulting explosions and fire killed 1,177 aboard that one battleship alone.

In less than two hours, 2,403 Americans were dead.

I was in a complete daze, and helpless about what was happening. I was really frightened. I ran into the mess hall, near the bow of the ship; anywhere for safety. I had not anymore than entered the compartment when a bomb came crashing through the overhead a few feet in front of me.

It took some time, Inskeep said, for it to sink in that his country was under attack.

I grabbed a rifle from its rack on the bulkhead, and although I knew that it was impossible to shoot down an airplane with it, it kept my mind occupied, and just holding it in my hands gave me a feeling of safety.

Inskeep , raised in Owensville, says reading the essay now recalls how he feared he would die that day.

I prayed, actually prayed, honestly and truthfully for the first time in my life.

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com