Local man recounts history of Pearl Harbor

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2002

In 1941 Henry Charles Graves of Demopolis had just completed Officer Candidate School in Ft. Lee Virginia. Two weeks after his graduation he received news of the Japanese bombing at Pearl Harbor.

“I remember the weekend very well,” Graves said. “It was a Sunday. I was supposed to have gone to Washington D.C. on a pass that weekend but I was broke so didn’t go. Instead I went to the study hall to do some studying. Someone there had on a radio and we heard the news broadcast over the radio,” he recalled.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor was the catalyst that lead to World War II. Graves would spend the next four years of his life serving his country overseas defending against Japanese invaders. He was one of the first officers assigned to the newly reactivated 777th Division. As soon as the division was fully manned, Graves said they were immediately shipped to Hawaii for jungle training.

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Graves was assigned as company commander of a maintenance and firearm ordinance. He said he often followed an infantry company within the division, remaining just behind the front lines.

“It was our job to keep the transportation rolling and keep the guns firing. We fixed rifles, pistols, howitzers, machine guns, jeeps, tanks, trucks; everything from jeeps to tanks and from .45 pistols to mortars,” he said.

Most of the men under Graves command were technicians but because the Japanese were such skilled night fighters, Graves said they often had to establish a perimeter at night to keep intruders out.

“You have to understand, the Japanese were fanatical, tenacious fighters. They just absolutely would not, would not surrender. They would rather die than surrender so you had to kill them,” he said.

From his location behind the front line, Graves rarely had opportunities to meet the enemy face-to-face, but he did recall one fateful night when a Japanese intruder did manage to get past the perimeter machine guns.

“I was awakened around midnight by machine gun fire. I kept a pistol under my pillow so I got it out and just sat up in bed and listened,” he said.

One of the rules in Graves’ company was if a soldier felt he were in danger at night they were expected to remain still and quiet until they determined the extent of the danger. Following the “be still” rule, Graves said he first heard, then saw someone move inside his six-man tent.

“I saw this shadow just come up in front of me. He was about six feet away. I raised my pistol and just before I squeezed off a round I said who’s there,” he recalled.

As it turned out the person in the tent was Graves’ company First Sergeant. The man had also heard a noise near the tent and had come in to check on the officer. They both went outside to have a look around.

“We searched and searched with flashlights and pistols all around the company area and finally we found a Japanese soldier lying in the perimeter trench. He had obviously been hit by machine gun fire,” Graves said.

Knowing the Japanese legacy of not surrendering, Graves though it best to make sure the soldier was dead before returning to his tent. He said he fired a single round to the soldier’s head, thinking it would end the threat, but he was mistaken.

“About 30 minutes later I heard more noise inside the tent and when I looked up, I saw the sword,” he said.

Graves barely dodged the Japanese sword tip and was able to wrestle the man to the ground with the help of other officers. The Japanese soldier was able to throw what looked like a grenade in Graves’ general direction. He said he had to made a quick decision to either dodge the sword or dodge the grenade – he chose the sword. After a brief scuffle the Japanese soldier was finally put down for good. What Graves thought was a grenade turned out to be a potato but the sword was very real.

“We figured out that the bullet I had fired only grazed his skull and knocked him unconscious. When he came to he tried to finish his mission,” he said.

Several items were taken off the Japanese soldier’s body which Graves had sent to Army Intelligence for analysis. I Japanese flag with what Graves said was probably the names of the soldier’s family members handwritten on it, a military armband, and an ink stick with what Graves believes is the soldier’s name etched on the end. Intelligence analyzed the items and eventually sent them all back to Graves which he has kept over the years.

Graves’ career basically followed the fighting across the Philippine Islands until it lead to Okinawa where President Harry S. Truman gave the order to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

History describes Okinawa as the biggest and bloodiest battle of World War II in the Pacific, as well as a major influence on the decision to use the atomic bomb. In the end, over 12,000 Americans lost their lives, along with 110,000 Japanese soldiers and militia and as many as 150,000 civilians.

Okinawa was officially declared won on June 22, 1945 and the Americans set up occupation on the island.

“I thought the bombing was an excellent idea. It was the best thing that could have happened in the war because the Japanese were not going to surrender,” he said.

In December of 1945, Graves returned to Demopolis as a U.S. Army Major. He had gone up in rank from a private to a major in just six years and received a Bronze Star for bravery along with several other military honors.

Local people may recall his family’s grocery business, Graves Wholesale Grocery. He eventually returned to help run the business with other family and friends.