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After the bombs hit my ship...

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image Ed Socha enlisted in the Navy in 1939 right out of high school and was stationed on the USS Maryland at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7, 1941. Photo Penny Fletcher

One man’s story of Pearl Harbor and the months that followed

By PENNY FLETCHER

SUN CITY CENTER — The boat to shore was due to arrive around 8 a.m. but Ed Socha had forgotten his wallet and was going back to the ship.

So Ed saw the first bomb hit Pearl Harbor from a different vantage point than he would have from the smaller boat, which he said narrowly escaped the bombs and had to turn back.

Ed remembers the details of that day, and the months that followed, in great detail.

The 20-year-old Apprentice Seaman had recently been transferred from the USS West Virginia to the USS Maryland. Some of his things still remained on the West Virginia, including a clarinet he’d left in the storeroom.

Although he was listed as dead in at least one newspaper because paperwork still had him assigned to the West Virginia which was sunk, Ed says his family knew better because he had already notified his mother of the transfer.

Historical records show that all eight US Navy battleships anchored at Pearl Harbor Naval Base were damaged, four being sunk, although two were later raised and repaired. The attack was intended as a preventive action to keep the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions taking place in Southeast Asia. The base was attacked by 353 fighter planes, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves launched from six aircraft carriers. It was the event that pushed the United States into World War II, Dec. 7, 1941.

“It was a Sunday morning. Everything was quiet. I was going back to get my wallet and saw the first torpedo drop. There was a young officer running down the quarter deck, yelling to us about what was going on. I saw the red ‘meatball’ on the next plane that went over. It was close enough I could see the pilot clearly,” Ed said.

Now 91, Ed had enlisted in 1939 after graduating from Niagara Falls Sr. High School in New York. It was the height of the Great Depression and people could not find work. But Ed stayed in the Navy for 27 years, reaching the rank of Ensign on Guadalcanal in 1944 and then attending Scout and Raider training – a Special Forces unit.

After Pearl Harbor, he remembers being attached first to a unit that built a mobile hospital, and then being transferred to write notes and correspondence for the Base Commander because he knew shorthand and could type.

From there he became an Admiral’s Writer for the Pacific Fleet.

“Here I was, a little old fresh Seaman working for an Admiral,” he said, laughing.

The next stop was Calcutta, India, where he somehow managed to locate his brother William who was stationed there in the Army.

“We walked the streets of Calcutta together talking about home,” he said.

After India, Ed went to China, first to Chung King, and then was one of six men assigned to survey and map the Yangtze River.

“It was a six-week voyage using all local boatmen and crafters. I was the one who held the money to pay them. They didn’t know I was carrying $10,000 in Chinese money in two sacks. If they had, I don’t know if I’d have made it back. This was quite an experience. We lived on the local economy. I don’t think I got to take a shower the whole time.”

In places, the rapids were so bad the local help was afraid to proceed until Ed and the other Americans put on life jackets and jumped into the water to demonstrate how they worked.

Being in the boondocks in rural China was like taking a step way back in time.

“There were warlords with their own little armies following them that made their own weapons. You’d hear a bugle, and they’d come riding out. I can’t imagine how they made those weapons. How they could drill through metal with what they had (to work with). There are 40 different dialects in China. Somehow our interpreter, who spoke Mandarin, got us through.” 

For his service in WWII defending China’s independence against invasion, Ed was awarded the SACO: Sino-American Cooperative Organization Commemorative Medal during a Veteran’s Day ceremony in Sun City Center in 2006.

The medal was bestowed by his step-brother, Ret. Rear Admiral Richard Rybacki, of the US Coast Guard.

It was in July of 1945, while setting up a base in Tung Hing Lake, using a crank generator to get the news, that Ed and his small group learned the war was over.

They made their way back to an American base in what had been the enemy’s transportation: the wheels on trucks had been replaced with railroad wheels and trucks ran on rails like trains.

After the war Ed became the assistant to the Executive Secretary of Defense under Robert McNamara. This is the position he held the day President John F. Kennedy was shot.

Two years after that, in 1966, Ed retired from military life with the rank of Commander and took a position with the Lummus Company, a division of Combustion Engineering Company, from which he retired in 1987, when he and his wife, Naomi, moved to Florida.

Ed and Naomi have two children, five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and as of this writing, another on the way.

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