CLYMER — It was a day that the Greatest Generation could never forget, and the day that lives in infamy still lives in the minds of those who were there to witness it.
Joe Krolick, 92, of Clymer, was a young Army soldier serving his time at Pearl Harbor the day it was attacked. Born in Grassflat, Clearfield County, in 1921, Krolick moved to Rossiter at age 6. It was while living in Rossiter that Krolick and three other friends decided to join the Army on Jan. 4, 1941.
“Back in those days, we had a depression, and it was hard to get a job. It’s worse than what it is now,” he said.
He and his friends had orders to Hawaii, though a sergeant at the time wanted them to be stationed in the Philippines.
Some quick thinking on behalf of one of his friends and the intervention of a nearby lieutenant kept Krolick on the path to Oahu.
“You know what happened in the Philippines, right?” he asked. “That Bataan Death March. Things could’ve ended up very different for me.”
By March 1941, Krolick found himself at Pearl Harbor in the role of a stereoscopic observer for an antiaircraft gun. He and his men were positioned at the point of entry into the harbor. Given the circumstances at the time, Krolick and his men had no ammunition for the guns, however. Ammunition had to be requisitioned by the supply officer.
“We were a crack-shooting outfit,” he said. “We could shoot sleeves (dragged by flying aircraft) right out of the air.”
The Friday before the attack, the base received orders that they were to begin a joint maneuver exercise. During a joint maneuver, according to Krolick, everyone would have been in a battle position. He and his men would have been ready at their gun, and the ships would have been out of the harbor at sea. Unfortunately, the next day, orders came down that the maneuvers had been canceled. Krolick’s barracks emptied out as everyone was eager to spend some free time in Honolulu.
“I’m 92 years old,” Krolick said, “and I’ve been watching day in and day out, to find out why the maneuvers were postponed, whether it was the Hawaiian command or whether the command came from Washington.
“I can’t get into my head why they were canceled. If we had been out in our position, we’d have gotten most of (the enemy planes). They were flying around like pigeons in the air. Easy shooting.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor began on Sunday, Dec. 7, at 7:48 a.m. Hawaii time. Two waves of Japanese planes swept over the harbor for 90 minutes in an attempt to destroy as much as they could.
“I was in church that Sunday,” Krolick said. “A soldier came running in and whispered something to the chaplain and he turned around and said, ‘We’re being attacked by the Japanese!’ The chapel was up on the hill up from Pearl Harbor and I could already see the black smoke rolling.”
Krolick and his men gathered all their gear, loaded into trucks and tried to make their way to the base. Unfortunately, the road was jammed with every other soldier trying to get back as well, riding in taxis, personal vehicles and whatever they could find.
“We must’ve sat there for an hour and a half,” he said.
Once the highway opened up, he was able to get back to his position, but was never able to get a shot off. The attack was winding down.
“We were just like sitting ducks, caught us with our pants down,” Krolick said. “That was something, I’ll tell you. If we had been out in our position, and the way we could shoot, I know we could have got a lot of those planes.”
By the time the attack ended, 2,386 Americans had been killed and 1,139 were wounded. Eighteen ships were either sunk or run aground and most of the aircraft on the base had been destroyed.
Krolick served on Pearl Harbor for the next 3ﾽ years with a brief stint in Guam once the Japanese had been pushed out. He was back in the U.S. the day after Christmas in 1944.
His active-duty time ended in 1945 after 4ﾽ years. He moved back to Clymer, where he got a job with McCreary Tire and Rubber Co., now known as Specialty Tires of America.
Today, Krolick says he enjoys hunting near his home. He is probably best known to the residents of Clymer for his work with the community. He has served as the commander of the American Legion, as a constable, as the chief of police, as mayor and currently sits on the Clymer Borough Council.