PERCY JOHN FULTON
Master Sergeant Percy John Fulton
Below is part of a story written in the Winston-Salem Journal a few years ago.
Survivors call up memories of the attack so people
will remember and remain vigilant
By Michael Biesecker
On Dec. 7, 1941, Percy John Fulton woke up to
another routine Sunday morning of Hawaiian paradise.
It was his duty that day to raise the flag on the
USS St. Louis as a bugler played the call to colors at 8 a.m. He got to
his post below the pole at the 638-foot cruiser's stern with time to
spare, wearing a crisp khaki uniform and carrying a 48-star banner.
Many men were still sleeping off a Saturday night
spent in Waikiki Beach, but Fulton, a 22-year-old Marine, had grown up
on a farm in Belews Creek and was used to getting up early. He was
accompanied by two other Marines, who stood with their M-1 rifles during
the ceremony. Following peacetime procedure, they didn't have any
Waiting for the appointed time, Fulton took a
moment to look out across Pearl Harbor. It was a warm, clear day with
high, puffy clouds that hinted at rain. About a quarter-mile over the
calm, turquoise bay was the pride of the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet -
seven massive steel gunboats, each named for a state, moored in a gray
column appropriately called Battleship Row.
Suddenly Fulton heard the roar of a 14-cylinder
Mitsubishi radial engine and turned to see an unfamiliar plane skimming
across the water. A large red circle was painted between the wings and
tail and a slender silver torpedo slung under its belly.
"We knew what that red meatball meant,"
said Fulton, now living in Winston-Salem. "We were so close we
could see the machine gunner in the back of the plane smiling at
President Franklin D. Roosevelt would call Pearl
Harbor a day that would live in infamy. But nearly 60 years later,
veterans who survived the attack say that the nation has forgotten the
lessons learned so long ago and half a world away.
During the attack, 19 ships were sunk or severely
damaged, 347 aircraft were destroyed and 2,403 sailors, soldiers and
civilians were killed. The Japanese lost 29 planes, six small submarines
and at least 64 men.
Across the harbor, the crew of the St. Louis
struggled to get underway and make a run for the open sea. After seeing
the torpedo plane, Fulton quickly raised his flag and ran to his battle
station in a turret with twin 5-inch guns. He started slamming
anti-aircraft shells the size of a two-liter soft-drink bottle into the
Fulton's ship was tied up between two other
cruisers, the USS San Francisco and the USS Honolulu. Ignoring
procedure, the captain of the St. Louis didn't wait for official orders
to get his ship moving.
"Normally it took two tugs to maneuver us out
into the channel," Fulton said. "The skipper backed the ship
out and used the screws to turn us toward the mouth of the harbor."
Every now and then, Fulton would stick his head out
the turret door. The air was thick with the smell of burning fuel oil
"There were bodies floating in the
water," he said. "Men were swimming in oil, covered with oil,
and it was on fire."
The Japanese didn't limit their attack to the Navy
base at Pearl. Bombers also hit the U.S. Army Air Corps' fighter
squadron at Wheeler Field, about 11 miles north toward the center of the
island of Oahu.
P.J. Fulton, the Marine, went on to fight at
Bougainville, Iwo Jima and Guam - among the most horrific battles of the
war. He was training for the planned invasion of the Japanese home
islands when two atomic bombs forced the empire's surrender on Aug.
He returned to Winston-Salem the next year as a
master sergeant and intended to go back into the service, but met his
future wife at the Forsyth County Register of Deeds office as she filed
his discharge papers. Fulton went on to work in the office, retiring as
the assistant register of deeds. He is state president of the Pearl
Harbor Survivors Association and regularly visits area schools to teach
children about the attack.