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'I could see his eyes, he was so close'

By Sonny Long
Dec. 7, 2008 at 6:07 a.m.


William Lockey was practically eye-to-eye with a Japanese pilot during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

"The planes had to come around the end of my ship to get lined up to hit the battleships. They came within 20 feet of me. The first plane that came by didn't shoot, but he had his guns right on me. I could see his eyes, he was so close," recalled Lockey, who served aboard the USS New Orleans.

The attack remains a vivid memory for Lockey, now 88, and one of two known survivors of the battle living in the Victoria area.

At first, when Lockey and others aboard the New Orleans, a heavy cruiser, saw planes in the distance dropping bombs, they thought it was practice by the Army Air Corps. He found out differently when Japanese airplanes got close enough to identify.

He was standing near the flagstaff on the ship's deck when two more planes came by and a boatswain's mate starting shooting at them with a .45 caliber pistol.

"They opened up with their machine guns and shot the flagpole all to pieces," Lockey said. "They were shooting all around the edge of the ship. Something grazed me on top of the head. I got bloody all over."

Many of Lockey's 1,100 shipmates were on liberty and ashore at the time of the attack. No one onboard had the key to the ammunition box.

"I knocked the locks off the doors of the ammunition box with a big wrench," Lockey said. "We loaded the guns and shot down some planes. We kept on shooting as long as there were planes out there."

To complicate matters, because the ship was using power from the dock during engine repairs, the ship's big guns had to be aimed and fired manually.

Lockey said the ship's chaplain, Howell Forgy, came out and asked if could help pass the ammunition. Lockey reported that the chaplain said, "They taught me thou shalt not kill, but they didn't tell me I couldn't pass the ammunition."

At one point, Lockey was told that his brother, who was also on the New Orleans, had been killed, but that turned out not to be true.

Lockey recalled seeing the USS Arizona being blown up and sailors in the water trying to swim through oil that had spilled into the harbor, some of it on fire.

"It was sad, all those boys in the water, trying to make it. It was a terrible mess," Lockey said. "Some boys on my ship got hit, but no one got hurt too bad."

Lockey, who spent almost three years aboard the New Orleans, served on the ship throughout the Pacific campaign.

"We went from island to island to island and saw many battles. It was one battle right after the other. We went with the USS Enterprise, the greatest warship of all time," he said. "I saw lots of things. We were with the Saratoga when it got struck. But when they hit the Franklin, it got to me. I saw it get hit. It made you sick. A big man can cry. I just stood on the deck and cried."

After the service Lockey, who had attended school to become a plumber before joining the Navy, ran a successful plumbing business in the Galveston area until he retired at 82. He now lives in Victoria with his grandson George Scott.

He and D.D. Hill of El Campo, another Pearl Harbor survivor, plan to get together for lunch Sunday at a Victoria restaurant.

"I could see his eyes."

William Lockey, who was aboard the USS New Orleans during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor referring to a Japanese pilot.

The USS New Orleans

In addition to Pearl Harbor, the New Orleans took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea, Battle of Midway, Battle of the Eastern Solomons and the Battle of Tassafaronga, among others.

During Tassafaronga, a torpedo struck the ship, killing 82 crew members. The crew rigged a temporary bow from coconut logs and camouflaged it from air attack with palm fronds.

The New Orleans received 17 battle stars for World War II service, placing it among the highest decorated ships of WWII.

Sources: Wikipedia and USSNewOrleans.com

Lyrics to 'Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition'

It is widely believed that the following song was inspired by the words of Howell Forgy, the chaplain aboard the USS New Orleans, the same ship Victoria's William Lockey was aboard when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Words by Frank Loesser

Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate

Down went the gunner, and then the gunner's mate

Up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look

And manned the gun himself as he laid aside The Book, shouting:

Praise The Lord, and pass the ammunition!

Praise The Lord, and pass the ammunition!

Praise The Lord, and pass the ammunition and we'll all stay free!

Praise The Lord, and swing into position,

Can't afford to sit around a'-wishin'

Praise The Lord, we're all between perdition

and the deep blue sea!

Yes the sky pilot said it

You've got to give him credit

for a son-of-a-gun of a gunner was he,

Shouting: Praise The Lord,

we're on a mighty mission!

All a-board! We're not a-goin' fishin',

Praise The Lord, and pass the ammunition

and we'll all stay free.

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