Back to Top Skip to main content

Remembering Pearl Harbor 75 years later

Harold Mainer, now 95, was stationed on the USS Helena when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Arkansas native was only 20 years old at the time and had joined the Navy a year before. He served in the Navy throughout the war and was honorably discharged Jan. 17, 1947. (Photos courtesy of the Mainer family) Harold Mainer, now 95, was stationed on the USS Helena when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Arkansas native was only 20 years old at the time and had joined the Navy a year before. He served in the Navy throughout the war and was honorably discharged Jan. 17, 1947. (Photos courtesy of the Mainer family)

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

“Girls, get into your uniforms at once! This is the real thing!” Navy Capt. Ruth Erickson, a nurse stationed at Naval Hospital Pearl Harbor, recalled being told. It was Dec. 7, 1941.

The Sunday morning started as a clear, quiet day, but the skies quickly darkened as smoke rose from burning ships. Confusion and fear filled the air as enemy planes dove to begin what would become one of the worst attacks in American history. Medical staff and civilians prepared for the inevitable influx of wounded. Erickson put on her uniform and dashed across the street through a shrapnel shower and waited with a few doctors to gain access to the facilities.

“I felt like I were frozen to the ground, but it was only a split second,” said Erickson in an interview for the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED)’s oral history program.

Now, 75 years later, the Military Health System honors the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack in recognition of all service members, civilians and medical staff who bravely manned their post that day.

André B. Sobocinski, a historian for BUMED, said one of the biggest takeaways from the Pearl Harbor attacks is the notion of readiness and being able to handle an unexpected medical crisis.

“Readiness is certainly a concept that we take pride in at Navy Medicine,” said Sobocinski, “It is certainly something that the attack on Pearl Harbor offers a fine example of. Our medical staff really shined that day.”

By 1941, Pearl Harbor had a large medical community that included hundreds of well-trained hospital corpsmen, dentists, physicians and nurses. It was also home to the U.S. Naval Hospital, two mobile hospitals and the hospital ship USS Solace, as well as dispensaries at naval and Marine air stations nearby.

When the attack began, hospital beds were cleared and many patients discharged in order to make room for the growing number of casualties. Aid stations and field hospitals were set up and supplied in the area as casualties were being collected and transported to medical facilities.

By 8:25 a.m., the first patient arrived at the naval hospital. Operating teams and burn units went to action. A Navy physician, recovering from his own major surgery, got up and returned to duty to work on incoming patients. Soon, burn patients streamed into the hospital.

“The experiences we had treating these burn patients and flash burn injuries truly inspired the Navy Medical Department to explore new treatments for burns and also pioneer special protective gear and clothing used in World War II,” said Sobocinski. Roughly 60 percent of the casualties seen that day were treated for burns.

As medical staff on land tended to the wounded, those left fighting on ships did what they could to tend to the injured. Harold Mainer, 20 years old at the time, was standing on the main deck of the light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) when Japanese planes swooped in. Three bombs fell nearby. Everyone ran to their battle stations. The Helena was hit by a torpedo, but a neighboring ship took the brunt of the blast. Mainer was soon given orders to wash the deceased off the deck.

“We did what we had to do. We all did what we could to help the wounded on the ship” said Mainer, now 95 years old. “During the battle, we were trying to get the wounded onto the beach to get them to the hospital and take care of the dead as best as we could.”

The attack left 2,403 military personnel and civilians dead, including 26 hospital corpsmen, two Navy dentists and two Navy physicians.

In the days to follow, Mainer and countless others took part in the grueling recovery efforts – picking up the dead and injured, and transporting them to hospitals.

“This is really a national tragedy and something that we will always remember,” said Sobocinski. “Pearl Harbor represents this notion of resilience, which is a key component of the American character and thematic of the historical narrative of this country. Not only did we survive this devastating attack, we came back stronger.”

You also may be interested in...

Hospital corpsman disregards own life to save Marines

Article
7/5/2017
Richard Dewert’s gravestone at Massachusetts National Cemetery. (Courtesy photo by Gary Boughton)

Early in 1951, DeWert received orders to the 7th Marine Regiment, a unit known suffering more casualties than just about any other Marine unit during the Korean War

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

D-Day through the eyes of a combat medic, 73 years later

Article
6/6/2017
Edwin “Doc” Pepping, left, and Albert “Al” Mampre, right, both served as combat medics attached to Easy Company during World War II. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Pepping)

With no chance to be nervous or afraid, and often times equipped with little supply, World War II combat medics reflect on their experiences for D-Day’s 73rd anniversary

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Defense Health Agency Overview

Presentation
2/9/2017

Defense Health Agency Overview

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Research and Innovation

Overview of Air Force Medical Service

Presentation
2/9/2017

Overview of Air Force Medical Service

Recommended Content:

Research and Innovation | Military Medical History

Overview of Coast Guard Health Services

Presentation
2/9/2017

Overview of Coast Guard Health Services

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Access, Cost, Quality, and Safety

Overview of Navy Medicine

Presentation
2/9/2017

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Medical History

Dr. Charles Drew, Father of Blood Banks

Article
2/9/2017
Dr. Charles Drew (bottom row, center), an African American researcher, revolutionized the way the medical community stored blood products during World War II. Often referred to as the “Father of Blood Banks,” Drew developed ways to process and store blood plasma in what we now call blood banks. (U.S. National Library of Medicine photo)

Drew, an African American researcher, revolutionized the way the medical community stored blood products during World War II

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Dr. Charles Drew: The Man Who Saved a Million Soldiers' Lives

Video
2/9/2017
Dr. Charles Drew: The Man Who Saved a Million Soldiers' Lives

During African American History Month we celebrate Charles Drew, who revolutionized the blood collection and distribution process and developed large-scale blood banks, allowing medics to save untold numbers of lives during World War II. Drew’s methods are still used to save lives in the armed forces today.

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

History of military medical advancements in brain injury treatment

Article
12/19/2016
Army Sgt. Liliane Milo, a medic with 4th Infantry Division, checks in Soldiers for Military Acute Concussion Evaluations.

Much of our TBI awareness stems from progress in brain injury research by military medicine

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Traumatic Brain Injury

USS Oklahoma 75 Years later: DNA is not just science, it's personal

Article
12/2/2016
Todd Weiler, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and Ronald Keohane, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy; listen to Deborah Skillman, Director, Casualty, Mortuary Affairs and Military Funeral Honors from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, explain the display board of confirmed USS Oklahoma remains identified by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory Nov. 4, 2016, at Armed Forces Medical Examiner System on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Weiler and Keohane received briefings and met with personnel at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, AFMES and the Joint Personal Effects Depot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Display board created by DoD DNA Registry analyst dedicated to the history of the USS Oklahoma

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Medical Examiner System | DoD DNA Registry | Military Medical History

Defense Health Board History

Presentation
11/1/2016

Defense Health Board History briefing to the Defense Health Board, Nov. 1, 2016.

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Mexican-American War remains arrive in U.S. for dignified transfer

Article
9/30/2016
The skeletal remains of the possible U.S. soldiers were solemnly carried to an awaiting vehicle by the U.S. Army Old Guard ceremonial team, under the watchful gaze of senior military, university and government leaders. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The skeletal remains of the possible U.S. soldiers were transferred for examination to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Armed Forces Medical Examiner System

Gulf War created need for better critical care

Article
1/19/2016
Medical personnel use litters to transport wounded to an Air Force C-141B Starlifter aircraft.  The patients were being medically evacuated from Al-Jubayl Air Base, Saudi Arabia to Germany during Operation Desert Storm.

January 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm, and also a turning point in Air Force Medical Service’s Critical Care Transport Teams

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History
<< < 1 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 13 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.