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Firsthand accounts of Pearl Harbor

As the nation pauses this month to honor those who have served their country, take a moment to thank a soldier for the daily sacrifices being made to protect freedom. 

Berry Craig of Mayfield, a consumer-member of West Kentucky RECC, sought to document the stories of America’s greatest generation, specifically those from his lifelong home who served in World War II, to assure they would not be forgotten. 

His new book, Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy, details every moment of the fateful attack on December 7, 1941, that propelled the United States into the conflict. 

Craig, a former newspaper reporter, interviewed Kentucky’s World War II veterans when possible and researched military records, unpublished memoirs and previously published stories of those who have died. On the advice of another writer, Craig and his wife visited the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, where the chief historian provided an extensive tour beyond that usually offered to visitors. “It was an emotional trip for us; at times, we were unashamedly moved to tears,” Craig says, an understandable reaction as both are children of WWII veterans. 

Determined to let his subjects tell their stories in their own words, Craig heavily uses direct quotes from those interviewed. The collection is organized by the ship on which the soldiers served. Also addressed are points of view from Oahu civilians who witnessed the attack as well as a vignette of daily life back home as folks prepared for wartime support. 

Craig found that soldiers’ letters written home before the attack commonly included praise for military life and especially for the tropical paradise in which they were stationed. Many expressed confidence in their safety, as well, believing Japan incapable or inadequate of inflicting harm. Interestingly, despite this erroneous thinking, none of the survivors Craig interviewed disparaged the Japanese soldiers. 

Reading these firsthand accounts, remembered with an amazing level of clarity down to the smallest detail, will give readers a deeper and much deserved respect for the soldiers’ experiences and sacrifices during Pearl Harbor.

Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy (University Press of Kentucky, $34.95) is available through local booksellers or can be purchased online. 

Berry Craig, born on the eighth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, spent 13 years as a reporter and feature writer for the Paducah Sun-Democrat and taught history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College from 1989 until he retired in 2013. Hear him discuss his book and the attack on YouTube (search Pearl Harbor Berry Craig). 

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