Lester and Goodrow stayed on the mountainside all afternoon, not knowing what to expect or if it was over. They were rounded up with other Marines that night and sent to the beaches, ready to hold them against an invasion that never came.
Marine Corps PFC Tom Lester had been walking post at the fuel dumps since four a.m. that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Two days earlier, Lester and about seven other Marines had landed at Pearl Harbor on a tanker out of San Diego. Almost the first order of business for the 19-year-old from south Georgia was to snap pictures of the beautiful island. The second order of business was to get settled in at Barracks 32 near the submarine base.
Later, in the pleasant morning sunlight, Lester stopped to lean against a fence that contained about a half million gallons of aviation fuel, all of which was camouflaged. He was talking to his buddy, G.T. Goodrow, when the drone of planes broke into their conversation.
“Guess the Navy’s gonna start their war games early today,” said Goodrow, as he and Lester idly watched the skies.
“Wait a minute,” he said, as he and Lester both tensed. “That plane’s got a big red meatball on the side.”
There was no further conversation as Lester and Goodrow sprinted as fast and as far away from the fuel tanks as possible, stopping only when they came to a cane field on the side of a mountain as the first Japanese bombs began to fall.
Back at the carnage of Pearl Harbor, Barracks 32 had taken a hit and about half the men housed there were dead. During the rest of Lester’s stay at Pearl Harbor, he only saw four of the men who had come over on the tanker with him.
“A lot of people just disappeared,” he said.
Lester, a rear-seat gunner on a dive bomber that went out with a fleet of carriers, was moved on to the U.S.S. Saratoga. He was there at the Battle of Midway and the Coral Sea. The war ended for Lester when he was shot down over Guadalcanal and lost his right knee and part of his hip.
At the time I did this interview and wrote this article back in 1991 — the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor — Tom Lester was a disabled veteran serving as a county magistrate. He saw two sons survive another war — Vietnam. He saw the weapons of war brought to a high-tech new dimension. But it was what he saw from that mountainside in Pearl Harbor half a century before that will ever live in infamy in his mind.
I’m proud I got to serve,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”