A Rendezvous with History: Lewis Walters

Edean Saito, Special Projects and Program Services Manager

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Lewis Walters was at home when he heard that Pearl Harbor was being attacked. He went outside to look towards the base and “we seen the Japanese planes flying over us. They were flying so low you could see the red circle flag on their tails.” His father, George Walters was a shipyard crane operator and engine man at Pearl Harbor. As the Japanese planes attacked the ships in dock, George purposely drove the crane he was operating and swung his boom to defend the ships and sailors in the adjacent docks from incoming strafing and bombing.

At 93 years old, Lewis recalls being a 16 year old in the electrician apprentice program at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. “We were driving into work early in the morning towards Nimitz gate the day after the attacks. There was fire and smoke everywhere. Bodies everywhere. When we got to Dry Dock #1, the base commander told us to start helping gather all of the bodies. A group of us was helping to take the bodies out of the water and later they were transported, tagged and stored in Shop 31.”

After the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lewis was part of the workforce that repaired the USS Yorktown in record time. “We knew that Admiral Nimitz wanted the Yorktown battle ready, so everyone was working 16 hour shifts, around the clock and didn’t leave Pearl for those days until the job was done.” “We were able to get Yorktown war ready and set off to the Battle of Midway, which was the battle that changed WWII.”

As Lewis Walters’ story unfolded, it was an OMG moment when we realized that his life touched all 5 parks Pacific Historic Park supports. When he was an infant, his father was the lighthouse keeper on the Kalaupapa peninsula, where Lewis spent his childhood and played with the Hawaiian children that lived outside of the settlement. When his family moved to Oahu, he lived on the foothills of Diamond Head. Lewis worked as an electrician in Bldg 214 Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for 39 years, from June 1941 to May 1982. Drafted into the Army, he also served on active duty 1944 – 1945, which sent him to Guam and Saipan.

As an electrician for Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, Lewis was sent to the far corners of the world to install and repair badly needed equipment, throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars. There’s definitely more to his stories and we are planning to revisit Lewis as we attempt to learn more about his life.

With each year that passes, members of the Greatest Generation are leaving us. Soon they will live on only in our collective memories. Pacific Historic Parks’ oral history program, “Rendezvous with History”, is the collecting and preserving of these precious stories of the members of the World War II generation, to gain new insights into the ways individual men and women helped shape our past, for generations we hope to inspire to never forget, to Remember, Honor, and Understand.

What is oral history? Oral history or talking history, is the historical information captured through recorded interviews (in audio and/or video) with participants who have experienced significant events or times.

Do you have a story to share? Every person’s story is significant and unique. Please email us at oralhistories@pacifichistoricparks.org or toll free at (888) 332-1941.