From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Retired Methodist chaplain remembers Pearl Harbor attack
Fri, 7 Dec 2001 13:53:12 -0600
Dec. 7, 2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: Photographs are available with this story.
By Chuck Myer*
FOLSOM, Calif. (UMNS) - Sixty years have passed since the bombing of Pearl
Harbor, but the events of that day are etched in the memory of Rev. Martell
Now 94, Twitchell was a young Navy chaplain serving at Pearl Harbor when the
Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, drawing the United States into World War
Twitchell, a Navy chaplain since 1937, had been assigned to Pearl Harbor the
year before. He had served Methodist churches in his native Mississippi in
the 1930s before joining the Navy chaplaincy. His first assignment had been
aboard a cruiser, the U.S.S. Portland.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, he attended a football game with Thomas L. Kirkpatrick,
chaplain of the U.S.S. Arizona. Both chaplains returned to the Twitchell
home to celebrate Martell Junior's third birthday. Kirkpatrick helped young
Twitchell, "Buddy," cut his birthday cake. Martell and his wife, Mamie,
invited Kirkpatrick to spend the night, but he declined. He wanted to be
ready to conduct his worship service on deck the next morning without having
to rush over to the base. So Kirkpatrick returned to the Arizona that night.
His body is still on board.
On the morning of the attack, Twitchell was scheduled to conduct a worship
service at 8:15 at the Marine barracks just inside the main gate of the
shipyard. The second service, his primary duty, was to be at 10 a.m. at the
submarine base. A third would be at 6:30 p.m. at the Naval Ammunition Depot
operated by the Marines at Lualualei (which means "beloved one spared").
At 7:55 a.m., Twitchell drove over the hill toward Honolulu. He could see
the sky filled with smoke, "boiling up into the air like a big fire." Twenty
minutes later, he picked up his organist, Ben Jones, a former member of the
Pearl Harbor Marine Band. They stopped at a Japanese flower shop to buy two
poinsettias for the altar. As they drove along Beretania Avenue, the highway
through Honolulu, they were still unaware of the attack.
The highway patrol was controlling traffic and turning people away from
Pearl Harbor, but Twitchell was in uniform and was waved through. As he and
Jones headed west from Honolulu near the territorial prison, they saw a
strange plane circling over Army Headquarters and another over John Rogers
Civilian Airport. They looked up, but couldn't see an emblem on the wings.
Just as they saw the first two planes, they heard heavy anti-aircraft fire
over Hickam Air Force Base and Pearl Harbor.
"We are really practicing today, aren't we?" Jones said.
Twitchell knew better. "No," he said, "we're under attack!"
Their car was directed through the main gate to the north base. Since
Twitchell had a service scheduled at the Marine Barracks, they stopped
there. The commanding officer had set up his command post in the basement,
where he was directing the Marines in stuffing anti-aircraft shells by hand
into the belts of the machine guns. Twitchell noticed the automatic loader
wasn't working because the belts were rusty.
Within 15 minutes, the final wave of about 75 to 100 dive-bombers swooped
down into the Naval Shipyards. Twitchell could see the bomb bays of the
aircraft opening and the bombs plummeting toward the ships and exploding. He
thought everything would be destroyed. Three bombs hit the U.S.S.
Pennsylvania, which was in the major dry dock. The others hit and destroyed
two destroyers, the Cassin and the Downs, which were unmanned in dry docks
about 50 yards west of the battleship.
When the attack was over, Japanese planes had hit all of the ships in the
harbor, and all of the airfields on the island. Not a single Navy aircraft
fighter on Ford Island was able to fly.
And more than 2,400 had lost their lives.
When the all-clear signal sounded, Twitchell raced to his office at the
submarine base and reported to the commanding officer. The base was filled
with injured sailors rescued from the ships and the ocean. The base had a
large welfare fund supported by profits from the ship service store, and the
commanding officer gave Twitchell about $5,000 to give to the enlisted men,
so they could purchase personal items. The supply depot issued dry clothing
The sick bays were filled with injured men from the ships. Twitchell
ministered to them as much as possible. Not knowing if the enemy would
return, Twitchell ordered his yeoman to use sailors from the ships to black
out windows. The commanding officer directed him to go to the naval housing
and visit all of the submarine personnel families and tell them to report
downtown to the Army-Navy YMCA, where they would be assigned families to
stay with in Honolulu.
He knocked on doors for about an hour, but by 2 p.m., his orders had changed
because the command didn't think the Japanese would return. At that point,
all military personnel were instructed to remain at the base, so Twitchell
told the families to stay in their homes until further notice. A number of
families had been assigned homes in Honolulu and decided to remain there for
about two days. The wives and children that seemed to receive the best
treatment were those put up in a row of apartments along Canal Street. With
a twinkle in his eye, Twitchell recalls that the women who were such
excellent hostesses after the attack were actually "ladies of the night."
At 3 p.m., he called his wife, Mamie, to tell her that he was all right, and
that he wouldn't be coming home. He stayed at his battle station, which was
the 50-bed dispensary, now filled with wounded sailors. As chaplain, he
visited with the men, prayed with them and did everything he could to
assist. Thousands of beds were set up in a field hospital on the football
field for overflow from the naval hospital.
The next day, to help with morale, Twitchell arranged some entertainment at
the alcove area next to the swimming pool. He brought in "Hilo Hattie and
her Hula Troupe" to perform for the men.
The Twitchells left Hawaii in January, and the chaplain was assigned to the
Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., then to the Navy pre-flight school in
Athens, Ga., where he worked with cadets in training and led worship
services at the University of Georgia. He later served in the Pacific
Theater as chaplain on the U.S.S. New Mexico.
He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1960, going on to serve pastorates
in the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference until leaving active
ministry in 1971.
Now a widower -- Mamie died in 1996 -- Martell Twitchell lives with his
daughter's family and is active in the Military Chaplains Association of
Greater Sacramento. He and his family have attended several meetings of the
Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in California. The national organization
still has about 8,000 members, many of whom will be attending the 60th
anniversary events in Pearl Harbor.
Chaplain Martell Twitchell and his family planned to be among them.
# # #
*Myer is a lifelong United Methodist and a writer and editor for various
United Methodist publications.
United Methodist News Service
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