U.S. Navy vetern George Davis of Newport, now 93, was aboard the USS Pyro during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
December 11, 2013 08:43AM
By Joe Baker
Newport Daily News
NEWPORT — When Machinist Mate 3rd Class George Davis was relieved of his watch on the USS Pyro on Dec. 7, 1941, at 7 a.m., he was looking forward to getting a little sleep. That was not to be.
He had left the engine room of the 484-foot-long ammunition ship but had yet to hit his rack when the general battle station alarm sounded. Like the rest of his 120 shipmates, Davis didn’t hesitate. His station when under attack was loading the anti-aircraft guns protecting the ship from enemy planes.
“You automatically just went to your positions,” Davis, now 93, recalled last week. “Training is a wonderful thing.”
The next two hours were the longest of his life, Davis said, as the crew of the Pyro battled Japanese planes attacking the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Davis, who grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, had joined the Navy as a young man of 19 in 1937. He wanted adventure.
“I was hoping to see the world,” said Davis, who married Newporter Jesse Neilson in 1942 after meeting her while stationed in the city. “I just wanted the Navy life. You read about it. You got to travel and see things you never would have seen if you remained a civilian.”
Among the places he saw was Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, the scene of one of the biggest military disasters in American history. Six ships, including four battleships, were sunk. Nearly 200 planes were destroyed, and 2,400 men and women were killed in the surprise attack that began America’s involvement in World War II.
Davis’ ship was moored in what was known as the West Loch dock; the Pyro was one of the ships closest to the mouth of the harbor. It avoided major damage as the Japanese bombers concentrated on what was called Battleship Row, moored nearly in the center of the protected harbor.
Davis did not witness much of the attack since he was busy reloading the guns.
“It was terrible, but we hung in there,” he said. “There was a lot of confusion, but you train for that stuff.”
As an ammunition ship, the Pyro returned to the mainland after the attack to restock. It was during that time that Davis underwent training in Newport and met his bride-to-be. They had three children and settled in Newport’s old Fifth Ward neighborhood, not far from King Park, after he got out of the Navy. Davis worked as a gardener in one of the mansion’s greenhouses.
Although Davis insists that he and his shipmates simply did what they were trained to do, their commanding officer didn’t see it that way. In his action report following the battle, Capt. Nicholas Vytlacil praised the crew’s response. His gunners, he said, were responsible for downing one of the Japanese attackers and kept up their defense even after a Japanese bomb landed on the concrete dock 12 feet from the ship.
“All officers and enlisted men behaved splendidly,” he wrote on Dec. 10, 1941, to the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Chester Nimitz.
“They performed their duties under machine gun fire and bombing in a cool and efficient manner.”