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Local veteran remembers Pearl Harbor

By Amy Unger, Reporter, AUnger@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 06 2012 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 07 2012 05:31:05 PM CST

Hawaii seemed like an ideal place for a young sailor to begin his career with the U.S. Navy.

Hawaii seemed like an ideal place for a young sailor to begin his career with the U.S. Navy. Pittsburgh native and Allentown transplant James Murdy enlisted in 1940 because he wanted to learn a trade.

"My dad always said, 'you get a trade, you can make a living,'" recalled Murdy.

On December 7th, 1941, he was hoping to spend a relaxing Sunday away from his ship, the USS Helena, where he was serving as an electrician, third class.

"I wanted to go ashore that day," said Murdy. "But I didn't get to go ashore that day.

The bombs started falling around 7:48 AM, local time.

"I ran into this one guy and I said, 'hey what the hell's happening here?'" recalled Murdy. "The guy says to me, "you damn fool, we're being bombed by the Japanese!'"

As soon as the attack began, everyone was ordered to their battle stations. For Murdy, that meant going below the deck.

"Electrician, he isn't a gun guy," said Murdy. "He's the guy who keeps the lights lit".

Murdy didn't go above deck until after the attack was over. And that's when the enormity of what he had survived began to sink in.

"The battleship Oklahoma was turned right over," said Murdy. "The Arizona was burning."

Murdy's ship didn't sink, but it wasn't unscathed. Thirty-five of its sailors were lost.
"I didn't realize it, here a torpedo had gone into the forward engine room," said Murdy.

Murdy later left the ship to attend Naval Mine Warfare School. It's a move that may have saved his life. The Helena was sunk by the Japanese in 1943.

After his Navy career ended, Murdy spent 35 years working for Bethlehem Steel. He and his wife Mary will celebrate their 67th anniversary next year. They have three children and one grandchild. It's a family tree that's made possible because Murdy was one of the ones who made it 71 years ago. But he hasn't forgotten about those who didn't.

"I can't help but think of some of the guys who were killed," said Murdy.