Master Sergeant Percy John Fulton




Below is part of a story written in the Winston-Salem Journal a few years ago.



Haunted Heroes

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 ammunition.

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 us."

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 gun's breach.

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 and gunpowder.

"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. 14,1945.

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.