I

t was a day whose endless flames were seared intoAmerica’s collective consciousness. It was a day of no light, when the smoke from exploding ammo dumps, ships’ magazines, and aircraft gas tanks obscured the sun and created a black haze at noon.

For hundreds of young men and women — for Private Moe Freed — there was no time on that day: no time for mourning or fear or sorrow. There was just the wounded, the dead, the dying.

The harbor was a seething mass of smoke, flames, and screams. Again and again Moe rushed into the water, pulling out soldiers — survivors, corpses, pieces of what had once been young, carefree sailors.

He saw the Arizona, hull buried deep in what had beenPearl’s tranquil waters. For a horrible moment he could make out the sound of tapping — sailors trapped within the ship’s hull, buried 40 feet beneath the surface, desperately trying to make themselves heard.

He thought of his friend Lu, and then he turned away. Others, with proper equipment, were trying to break through the two feet of steel. Moe had only his arms — one of them burned badly, with the salt water snarling into his wound — to pull out yet another corpse from the water.

For two more hours, bullets and bombs rained down, as the second wave of Japanese bombers swooped and roared, unmolested, over the island. No one ran to shelter; there was no time. For these young men and women, many fresh out of high school, this was their first grim introduction to death — but there was no time for thinking about that, either. Not while there was another body to be taken from out of the waves, another burned sailor to be thrown roughly onto a makeshift stretcher and carried to theNavalHospital.

When thirst became a burning obsession, Moe followed other soldiers, racing to a water pipe that had been struck by bullets and had burst into a pillar of water. He rinsed the saltwater from his mouth, washed the smoke out of his eyes, and raced back to the carnage.

As dusk began to fall on the beautiful islandof Oahu, the frenzy began to abate. Soldiers and sailors still lay moaning on the ground, but fewer and fewer were being pulled from the ocean. The hull of the Arizona had not yet been pierced; ominously, the clicking and tapping had stopped. Officers, many of them hardly out of basic training, tried desperately to organize squads and platoons, to restore a little discipline onto the pandemonium.

Moe, refreshing himself once again at the burst pipe, looked down at the blackened hulks of what had just a few hours ago been proud warships. For the first time, he had a few minutes to think.

Lu. Harry. What had happened to his friends? Were they alive? Wounded?

Were they dead, piled up in hospital basements that were now serving as morgues?