December 7, 1998
While at the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec. 1941, I was handed a short article that had recently been published in Time magazine. Here's a copy of it revealed for the first time ever by Carl Slattengren, a friend of mine:
"Nine months before Pearl Harbor, Carl Slattengren and his USS Shaw crewmates had embarked on a course that could have dramatically altered world history.
"In March of 1941, the Shaw pulled out to sea from Pearl Harbor with live warheads and with ammunition strapped to its deck. The captain then opened sealed orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and read them to the crew.
"They (the orders) said that we were to load our 5-inch guns and go through the Japanese fleet out in the South Pacific and provoke them, Slattengren said. If they were to fire on us, we were to return fire.
"The Japanese fleet were getting stronger and stronger and we all knew they were going to attack us someday. So the sooner the better. But the plans were changed after Congress got wind of what was happening.
"When Congress heard of what we were doing, they told us to get out of there. So we went on a Goodwill Cruise to Australia and New Zealand. Then returned to Pearl Harbor." End of article.
Guess what? I've been "sitting" on that story for over fifty years. Playing it close to my vest. I was a definite part of that strange and enigmatic search. For us, it was very puzzling and we were kept somewhat in the dark. That was understandable.
We knew that, at will, the Japanese fleet was ranging far and wide in the Pacific Ocean area. It was a hush-hush thing. We all knew it was of a war winds nature. My captain never read the secret orders to us. Only the Shaw's skipper did. I was on the sister warship USS Tucker. Later I heard of the order.
We loaded up with extra torpedoes and put them on wooden chocks on the quarterdeck area. During one rough weather period, one torpedo came loose. I and others had to lasso it, lest the warhead explode. During that attempt I was slammed against the torpedo and lifelines and my back was injured.
There were 12 warships in our group. We were ordered to fly our flag day and night. At night time, we were to have our searchlight on the flag. We were to find the Japanese fleet. Then with "loaded" gun barrels pointing skyward, we were to barrel through their fleet and provoke them to fire on us, then return fire and notify our commander-in-chief we were being fired upon.
In all probability, President Roosevelt would then ask Congress to declare war on Japan, bringing out that they'd attacked us.
My own silence
It is natural for military men to play down such events and not reveal them to civilian publications. Court-martial?
Thus, over a half a century, I've kept silent. Now that a friend of mine has revealed part of the overall plan, I'll offer my own thoughts as to the failure to find the Japanese fleet and provoke them to attack us.
At all times, they knew what was going on at Pearl Harbor, what ships were leaving, coming to port, etc. Maybe somehow they deduced our intentions. It's my belief that once they'd gotten wind of our plan they backed off and retreated to a safe area.
They had plans of their own, more ambitious than to sink a few of our warships. What were they? For years, they'd been planning the attack on Pearl Harbor and had it fine-tuned. Nothing should cancel that bold plan, they swore. Thus, they hid their warships until "Pear Harbor Day" caught us fast asleep.
Roosevelt was a canny man. Before the attack, he'd told England's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, "I will never declare war. I will make war."
Today I shudder as to what may have happened had we run into the Japanese fleet. Probably I'd not be here to offer this article to you. Furthermore and more important (?), there would not have been a Pearl Harbor. Lastly, and to think that I've slept on this story for over a half a century and told no one about it.
Now for the first time (with the exception of the short Time article), you are reading a bit of history, one of many war episodes in which I have been so intricately involved. And I've survived every one of them. But it wasn't easy.
This is a repeat of an earlier article run in the Weekly by Oscar Roloff. Following a recent stay in the hospital, during which Oscar talked with visitors and other patients, he found that many do not remember the events of Pearl Harbor Day.