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Colorado Springs man recalls attack on Pearl Harbor 81 years later

Posted at 4:00 PM, Dec 07, 2022
and last updated 2023-07-14 10:04:02-04

Jay Craig was just a little boy when his family moved to Hawaii to be with his father. His dad, Wyatt Craig, pictured below, the captain of the destroyer of the USS Selfridge in Pearl Harbor, was concerned they were coming but his mom wanted an adventure.

Wyatt Craig

"My dad had been telling my mom for years, 'The Japanese are in their expansion, they're going to have to involve us in the war and they're most likely to bomb Pearl Harbor.' "

A little over a year later, the Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor. His family was all at home just starting their day.

"My ritual as a kid was to vie with my sisters to see who was the first to get out outside and grab the newspaper so we could read the funnies," Craig recalled. "We didn't get a newspaper that day and it was getting late so I was wondering what was going on, and there was this noise outside, so I went out front into the yard and when I got in the yard I looked up over the mountain ridge and there are these little puffs of smoke. I said, 'Oh that's anti-aircraft fire, what are they doing? Having a drill or something?' and then I saw two planes to the south and they were in a dogfight."

Moments later Japanese planes were flying towards their home two miles from the harbor.

"I waved and the lead bomber dips his wings in the international salute of hello and I'm looking up, and it's not much more than 35 or 40 feet above my head," said Craig. "As soon as they came past, my neighbor came running out of her house, she had those curlers in her hair and her bathrobe on, and she said, 'Johnny, Johnny go tell your dad that the Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor and that it's not a drill.' So that's when I ran into the house."

Craig said his father was wearing his golf clothes and did not have time to change before he rushed out of their home.

"He had his pistol belt with his navy 45 caliber on his hip so I thought, 'Okay this is serious business.'

His father jumped into a car with his mom and one of his sisters, knowing as the captain of the destroyer he had to return to the ship he commanded. Craig said he did not realize at that moment there was a great risk his father may not come home.

"I had so much confidence in my dad," he said.

His father's mission: to find the Japanese carrier fleet.

"They were already steaming away by the time he was heading north looking for them," Craig said.


His father's destroyer was hit by only one bullet and there weren't any casualties. But his battle report that day indicates the crew on the destroyer was able to shoot down four enemy planes. The report read in part, "The conduct of no one officer or man can be considered outstanding because the conduct, cooperation, coolness, and morale of the crew as a fighting unit was superb." You can read the full report here.

USS Selfridge, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack

Five days later his father returned unharmed. Craig said his dad insisted the two immediately go back to the harbor. Craig's first memory was the USS Oklahoma on her side.

Rescue teams at work on the capsized hull of USS Oklahoma (BB-37), seeking crew members trapped inside, 7 December 1941. The starboard bilge keel is visible at the top of the upturned hull. Officers' Motor Boats from Oklahoma and USS Argonne (AG-31) are in the foreground. USS Maryland (BB-46) is in the background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

"There were crews cutting holes in the hull and there were other guys with hammers slamming the hull and then listening for people inside the ship to hammer back," Craig recalled. "You see evidence of so much damage and so much hurt. That caught my attention."

Sights that even as a young child spurred in him a deep sense of patriotism to country and memory of songs that honored the more than 24 hundred people who died that day.

"Roger Young," Craig begins to sing as he remembers a WWII song written about a private who died serving his country. "Fought and died for the men he marched among. In the everlasting glory of the infantry. Roger Young."

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