Sharing stories of the attack
Several Mahoning Valley men talked about a day that has lived in infamy.
By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
WARREN -- Charles Skibbe was preparing for breakfast when the first alarm sounded. The next thing he knew, he was fighting for his life.
The former seaman first class vividly remembers the low-flying aircraft.
"The planes were so low you could see the pilots laughing at us. You could see their teeth," said Skibbe, 77, referring to the beginning of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.
Skibbe said his ship, the battleship USS Nevada, was hit by a torpedo and five bombs. When it sank, 47 crew members were killed and 104 wounded, he said. For three years, Skibbe couldn't talk about the horror of what he witnessed.
However, Skibbe and several other members of the Mahoning Valley Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Chapter 5, talked during a luncheon Saturday about their memories of the attack and shared their reactions to the current movie that depicts the event.
Phillip Corsello of Wellsville liked "Pearl Harbor," starring Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale, but added Hollywood can't duplicate what happened.
"The movie never showed Hickam Field," a military airbase where Corsello was stationed that housed various bombers.
His story: Corsello, now 83, was guarding a truck containing a .30-caliber machine gun when he saw a plane plunge from the sky. Part of his job was to show other soldiers how to properly use the weapon.
"I thought the Navy was conducting an [training] operation," he recalled. "I told the kids to shoot the gun and after that, all hell broke loose."
Shortly afterward, Japanese pilots mistook a nearby athletic field for an ammunition depot and blew it up.
About a month later, Corsello's parents learned their son was alive.
It also took that long for James Werner's parents to know he made it through the two-hour attack.
Werner, now 80, of Niles, was on a work detail when he saw the battleship USS Arizona blow up. The attack came in two waves with an hour in between, he said.
Werner said he thought the attack scenes in the movie were authentic, even though the film showed Japanese planes flying much faster than those during the real event. Werner said he remembered how Japanese aircraft would slow down over their targets before bombing them.
No match: It's impossible for a movie to fully capture the flavor of an event like the Pearl Harbor attack, added Robert Bishop, 80.
"[At the theater] there's no smoke to burn your eyes, no smell of burned flesh," the Austintown resident said.
Bishop also said he was stationed on the USS Tennessee when a gonglike sound came over the public address system calling the men to battle stations. Five were killed on his ship, but debris from neighboring vessels, like the battleships USS West Virginia and USS Arizona, caused several fires.
Werner attended the 55th Pearl Harbor anniversary in 1997, his first trip to Hawaii since the bombing. Werner was struck by the state's commercialism and said he had a difficult time finding his way around. Nevertheless, he plans to go to the 60th anniversary later this year.
"I don't feel we're heroes," he said of the survivors group. "Those who died were."
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association group plans to participate in the 25th annual Austintown Fourth of July Parade. A picnic is scheduled for noon on July 17 at Bishop's home.