BALTIMORE >> When the sun rose Dec. 7, 1941, on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Coast Guard cutter Taney was docked on Pier 6 under the gaze of Aloha Tower.
Cutter in Pearl
attack to become
"It was Sunday, you generally slept in, you know," said Otto Peterson, then a 20-year-old Seaman 1st Class from Helena, Mont.
At 7:55 a.m., a siren went off. Nothing unusual about that. The crew had been holding a lot of drills lately.
But when the men arrived at battle stations moments later, a squadron of Japanese planes flew over. This time, it was for real.
"At first, we didn't know what the hell was going on," Peterson said from his home in Tacoma, Wash. "We were just firing at whatever went over."
The 327-foot Taney was one of the first vessels to return fire, doing so in less than four minutes.
The Taney is the last Pearl Harbor warship afloat today. It served for half a century, finally decommissioning in 1986.
"They don't build ships like that anymore," said Francis C. Soares, a gun captain on board the day of the attack.
The Coast Guard donated it to Baltimore in 1989. Its final port of call is the Inner Harbor, next to the National Aquarium.
On Sunday, Soares, 80, will return to the boat he served on for almost three years. Twenty-two of the 145 crewmen aboard the Taney that Dec. 7 are still alive.
But Soares will be the only one dedicating an onboard exhibit showcasing the ship's role in the Pearl Harbor attack.
That's what makes this year so special, said a Coast Guard spokesman, Ensign Steve Youde.
"We're looking at one of our last chances to have the people who were there tell their story," he said. "We can't let those people pass on without letting us know."
Soares remembers the explosions that day, the fires and billowing smoke, and the "shooting, shooting, shooting."
At 11:58 a.m., a Japanese plane flew directly at the Taney, not expecting it to fire back, Soares said. But it did, putting up thick wall of ammunition.
"We surprised the heck out of him and he turned around," Soares said.
A make-work project of the Great Depression, the Taney was built in Philadelphia in 1936. It was part of the treasury class, a series of ships named for U.S. secretaries of the treasury.
This ship was named after Maryland native Roger B. Taney, a former acting Treasury Secretary and chief justice of the United States under President Andrew Jackson. Taney also married Francis Scott Key's sister.
One of the Taney's first tours of duty was in the South Pacific, where it helped search for Amelia Earhart in 1937.
After Pearl Harbor, it shot down five planes while serving at Okinawa and then patrolled the seas during the Vietnam War.
Later, the Taney handled fisheries, weather and drug interdiction duties.
"She really has done anything that the Coast Guard does," Youde said.
And its mission is not complete. As a museum, it educates the public about the Coast Guard, helping to dispel the common notion that this branch of the armed forces never sees combat.