December 7, 2012 marked the 61st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I interviewed Ed Kane, 92, about his experiences for JerseyMan magazine.
Kane is one of about 3,500 remaining survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. Prepared to talk with newspaper clippings and photocopies of naval history, he remembers every detail as clear as glass.
Growing up in South Philadelphia, the middle of three sons of a plumber and office cleaner, Kane left high school after his sophomore year. If he could follow his dreams, he’d have loved to be a baseball player; his entire life at the time, he says, was sports. Instead, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, the New Deal era program that put three million young men to work during the Great Depression.
He was sent to a camp operated by the government outside Waynesboro, PA where he worked in logging. He kept $8 of his $30 monthly pay; the government sent the remaining $22 to his mother.
Upon returning home after a couple years, he was sitting around with a group of five friends, drinking a cheap bottle of wine when someone suggested they all join the navy. There were no jobs and one of his friends had a brother already in the service. It seemed like a good option for these young men.
He was sent to Newport, Rhode Island for three months training, then back to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, gaining a spot on the USS Doran 185. From there, he was assigned to Long Beach, California, to the destroyer ship USS Worden that was then sent to Honolulu.
“I said to myself. ‘Wow, that’s where all the rich people go. The Kennedys, the DuPonts.’ I was expecting an exotic place. Then when we arrived, I saw a Sears Roebuck store. That made me think nothing was different,” he said.
Yet it was very different than South Philadelphia. As a sailor on a destroyer ship in peacetime, he had time to hone his skills in the ship’s boiler room and find his sea legs with daily excursions out to sea and back each night on ship. He enjoyed his independence, hitting the local bars and nightlife, and exploring the islands.
Rumors abounded about a possible invasion of the Philippines. The daily trips out to sea suddenly became longer, lasting anywhere from three to five or even seven days. Kane felt something was about to happen.
Returning to the Worden from liberty (shore leave) at about two o’clock am, he heard shouting. “Everyone to battle stations.” The Worden was in the middle of four other destroyers, two on both sides. They were tied together and secured to the railings, while undergoing repairs.
Kane remembers seeing the Japanese planes diving towards the harbor, an indelible scene that reminded him more of a circus than an attack. “I just couldn’t figure out what was happening. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. Miraculously, the Worden escaped unscathed.
The United States entered the war. The USS Worden, Ed Kane on board, continued to serve on the Pacific front, escorting battleships to and from battle, detecting submarines, and rescuing survivors. After Pearl Harbor, the ship earned four battle stars: Midway, Guadalcanal, Coral Sea, and the New Hebrides in 1942. Sent at the end of December to uncharted waters near Amchitka Island, part of the Aleutian chain in Alaska to guard the army transport of the Arthur Middleton, the Worden hit rocks. Unable to turn or unhinge due to the strong currents, the boat rapidly took on water and began to sink.
Kane remembers clinging to the edge of the ship, seeing the enormous waves, contemplating jumping in. He had a lifejacket on but couldn’t seem to let go.
“I was already exhausted. I felt my strength was zapped but I knew I had to jump,” he said.
It took a fellow sailor to yell, “Hey, Eddie, I got your blues,” for Kane to leap into the freezing water. The sailor was referring to the custom-made dress naval suit that Kane bought while still in Hawaii. Kane doesn’t know why this line inspired him to jump, but it did and saved his life.
Fourteen sailors lost their lives that day; a loss Kane attributes to the fact that they didn’t know how to swim. When he joined the navy, before the war, he wouldn’t have made it out of boot camp without knowing how to swim. Once the US entered the war, he contends, regulations became more lax.
The boat split in two beyond repair, Kane was sent home on his first leave in three years. After 30 days in Philadelphia, he was dispatched to Orange, Texas where he was assigned to the USS Murray 576. On this destroyer, Kane earned another 11 battle stars, assisting again throughout the Pacific, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and witnessing the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945. He remained in the navy until his discharge, March 26, 1946, six years to the day from his enlistment date.
A friend on the Murray had introduced him to his sister, Angelina. Though Kane admits he “loved the navy,” and would have happily re-enlisted, he heeded his future father-in-law’s ultimatum: “My daughter or the navy, not both.” Kane married Angelina in September 1946 and began work picking asparagus in south New Jersey for Campbell Soups. Returning to the Philadelphia area, he attended school under the GI bill and then became employed by the city’s school district, tending and repairing boilers, applying his knowledge learned in the navy. He retired 35 years later and moved to San Diego to be with his older brother, Jimmy, also a navy veteran. His younger brother, Tom, who enlisted in 1941, was killed in 1943 while serving aboard the USS Rowan off the coast of Italy. In 1988, after being diagnosed and operated on for colon cancer, Kane moved to Fort Meyers, Florida and then to Media, PA, to Riddle Village, a retirement community in 2003.
He battles emphysema, having smoked cigarettes since a teenager, and tries to maintain his health. He consumes 82 vitamins a day, exercises at the center’s gym, plays shuffleboard and sings in the chorus. His son Tom, and daughter Maryann live nearby.
He enjoys his life, despite that every month about three to five residents die and their names are added to a table in the community dining room. He “counts his blessings everyday,” noting he doesn’t regret for one minute that he left the navy, where he felt he’d received the greatest education, formed the best friendships, and contributed to the preservation of democracy that he holds paramount, to marry his beloved Angelina. She died in January 2011 after a long illness. Married 64 ½ years, Kane, now in tears, says, “It was the best decision of my life.”
Kane attends meetings organized by the town’s Veteran of Foreign Wars unit and the American Legion. He wears his Pearl Harbor Survivors’ uniform to Memorial Day parades: white pants, a Hawaiian -patterned shirt, and a white hat. His five medals, signifying his battles, adorn the shirt. He has returned to Pearl Harbor three times to participate in memorial services and hopes to have his ashes interned there.
“The movies have glorified the war. It’s not peaches and cream,” he said. Though concerned about the United States becoming too involved in solving world affairs, he adamantly supports getting the bad guys, having just read No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer. He watched the events of September 11, 2011 unfold on television and says he couldn’t believe what he witnessed.
Kane worries that many Americans know little about World War II and supports a mandatory two-year military service. “Kids need to know what’s going on in the world. They need to see how lucky they have it; they take everything for granted. I was a poor kid. I appreciated everything in my life and I still do.”