Fred Cassidy isn’t 100 percent certain he qualifies as a Pearl Harbor survivor, and he has the camp cook of Schofield Barracks to thank for that.
For sure, the 94-year-old Modesto resident recalls the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. He, indeed, called the barracks on Oahu home the morning the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor, about 16 miles away, and drew the United States into World War II.
He had intended to take a flying lesson that morning at Hickam Field near the mouth of the harbor.
“Took my first lesson in an old biplane,” he said. “We flew around Diamond Head.”
He expected to get a wake-up call from the cook so he could take another flight that morning.
“I didn’t get to,” Cassidy said. “The cook forgot to wake me up.”
So instead of being at Hickam when the Japanese attack began, Cassidy slept in at Schofield and sat down to eat breakfast about the time the Japanese planes flew over sounding like most other warplanes that routinely buzzed the island. He was unaware one had strafed Schofield’s artillery range, doing little damage on its way to Pearl. Then word came that the attack was no drill.
“I was the bugler,” he said. “I got out my bugle and played the alert call.”
When the bombing ended and Japanese pilots returned to their aircraft carriers, Cassidy’s unit went to Honolulu for guard duty.
“Exactly what we were guarding, I don’t know,” he said. “But we could see Pearl Harbor.”
The lights, the columns of black smoke, the destruction.
Monday morning, on the 74th anniversary of the attack, Cassidy reminisced in an office at Memorial Medical Center where, less than a month shy of his 95th birthday, he continues to volunteer one day each week as he has done since 1986.
Cassidy joined the Army at age 19 in 1940.
“When I enlisted, we went to New York and they gave us a little bit of a uniform but no training,” Cassidy said. “They put us on troop carriers and sent us through the Panama Canal.”
The trip took “too long,” he said. “It was an old troop ship, and I’m not a very good sailor. By the time the war was over, I spent four months of my life aboard ships.”
A company clerk, his duties kept him of off the front lines. His unit relieved the Marines on Guadalcanal and later in the Philippines. Cassidy mustered out in 1945. He worked as a draftsman and then went to Arizona with his brother’s family to work in masonry. Soon, he returned to the East Coast and toiled in a Boston hotel before returning to the Army in 1948.
He remained in the service, retiring as a sergeant first class in 1965. Then Cassidy trained in aircraft maintenance, which took him to Sharpe Army Depot in Lathrop and a home in Modesto until he retired again, this time in 1982.
Indeed a holdover from a generation that prided itself on serving, Cassidy began his volunteering stint at Memorial 29 years ago and recently surpassed the 5,000-hour mark. Sometimes he helps check in patients, other times he wheels them to their rooms. Whatever they need him to do, he does it, though he admits he’s slowing down a bit.
Occasionally, but not so often anymore, he’ll run into another World War II veteran at the hospital, but not Pearl Harbor survivors.
I wrote three years ago about Ken Krause of Oakdale, who as a 3-year-old and from his home on a hilltop on Oahu remembered watching the Japanese planes bear down on Pearl Harbor. After reading the column, Cassidy sent me a note to say he’d like to attend the local Pearl Harbor Association chapter’s next get-together. But a prior commitment prevented him from attending the meeting.
Then there wasn’t another meeting. The last of the local veterans who survived Pearl Harbor and belonged to the group died, and the chapter disbanded. Cassidy didn’t get to compare recollections of what happened that day that changed the world. Monday, another anniversary or commemoration, whichever you prefer. He’s seen many times “From Here to Eternity,” a 1953 movie about the attack and filmed at Schofield Barracks. The star, Montgomery Clift, played the bugle, just like Cassidy.
“It brought back lots of memories,” he said.
Does he meet the definition of a Pearl Harbor Survivor?
The organization, created by Congress in 1985, includes those “who were at or in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii during the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941.”
He was 16 miles away on Oahu that fateful morning. Japanese planes flew overhead on their way to turn Pearl Harbor into a living hell.
The cook forgot to wake him up for his flying lesson, and that might be why Cassidy survived to tell about it.