Pearl Harbor still a painful memory

CAMANO ISLAND – Today, just as he has for the past couple decades, Jim Vyskocil will join a familiar but dwindling group of men who know what he knows.

They all survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The 84-year-old Camano Island man will begin the day remembering Pearl Harbor in a ceremony at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. In the afternoon, he’ll join other survivors for a ceremony at Freedom Park on Camano Island.

Kevin Nortz / The Herald

Jim Vyskocil, 84, of Camano Island tries on the Navy uniform he will wear while speaking at a Pearl Harbor ceremonies.

It’s difficult to describe their feelings to people who weren’t there.

Today is not like Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day.

Today is different.

“I don’t really look forward to the seventh of December as a memory,” Vyskocil said.

Del Cummings was there, too. Now 88, Cummings spent decades rarely talking about what happened that morning so long ago.

“Because we were attacked, you know?” Cummings said. “These guys just came in to murder us.”

Vyskocil understands.

“You never really forget it but you just don’t like to be reminded,” he said.

Cummings remembers saluting his commanding officer on the deck of the Taney, a Coast Guard cutter. Then six planes marked with the red Japanese rising sun flew by low.

The Taney was docked near Honolulu. The planes were headed for Pearl Harbor, several miles away. Many more planes attacked from a different direction.

The clear, blue morning sky was soon afire.

Cummings watched through the Taney’s magnified gunsights while the USS Arizona exploded under attack.

Vyskocil saw the same thing from close range. He was in Pearl Harbor’s signal tower. His job was to help manage ship traffic in and out of the harbor.

After three dive bombers hit the USS Nevada, Vyskocil remembers telling the ship’s crew to run it aground, away from the main channel so other vessels could escape.

By the time the black smoke faded, the U.S. Navy calculated that more than 3,500 Americans were killed or injured. A total of 21 ships were destroyed or badly damaged.

Life was never the same for the survivors.

Cummings’ sweetheart, Sarah, was 17. She worried without word in Mount Vernon for three weeks before hearing he had survived.

Vyskocil stayed with the Navy. He saw combat in Korea and Vietnam, too.

“They’re all bad memories,” he said. “When you kill people, you don’t ever forget.”

Dec. 7 still provokes anger for Pearl Harbor survivors, 64 years later.

Vyskocil outlived his first wife. He remarried, but his new wife drove a Toyota. She wanted to replace it with another Toyota.

“I said, ‘Honey, I’m a Pearl Harbor survivor and I don’t buy any (expletive) Japanese car.’ I’ve never forgiven them for” the attack, Vyskocil said.

Sharing those feelings, even to those closest to them, was not easy. Many of today’s Pearl Harbor ceremonies only began 20 years ago as the aging survivors began feeling more comfortable talking, said Cummings’ daughter, MaraLei Nelson.

“They didn’t want to get those pictures back in their heads,” Nelson said.

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or

Talk to us

More in Local News

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

A fatal accident the afternoon of Dec. 18 near Clinton ended with one of the cars involved bursting into flames. The driver of the fully engulfed car was outside of the vehicle by the time first responders arrived at the scene. (Whidbey News-Times/Submitted photo)
Driver sentenced in 2021 crash that killed Everett couple

Danielle Cruz, formerly of Lynnwood, gets 17½ years in prison. She was impaired by drugs when she caused the crash that killed Sharon Gamble and Kenneth Weikle.

A person walks out of the Everett Clinic on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Everett Clinic changing name to parent company Optum in 2024

The parent company says the name change will not affect quality of care for patients in Snohomish County.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
Lynnwood settles for $1.7 million after 2021 suicide at city jail

Jail staff reportedly committed 16 safety check violations before they found Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47, unresponsive in her cell.

Diane Kay Thompson, center, listens during their sentencing at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Marysville woman sentenced to 2 years for running over, killing husband

Diane Thompson pleaded guilty to manslaughter. “My home was taken, my daughters hate me and I have no money to my name,” she said.

The Marysville Municipal Jail is pictured Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Marysville weighs mandatory jail time for repeated ‘public disorder’

The “three strikes” proposal sets a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for crimes like public drug use and trespassing.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
County Council delays vote on requiring businesses to take cash

Concerns over information and enforcement postponed the council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Wednesday in Snohomish County.

Thrill-seekers fly through the air on a ride during opening day of the Evergreen State Fair on Thursday, August 24, 2023, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Evergreen State Fair attendance dips 9% from 2022

Slightly over 228,000 people attended the fair this year in Monroe, down from 253,000 last year and 355,000 in 2019.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
New fire east of Darrington closes stretch of rural road

The Tenas Creek fire, which started late last week, was 90% contained Wednesday after burning 38 acres.

Most Read