Enlisting in 1938, the Arizona native was a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps whose unit was bivouacked at the time in tents near the harbor. But his recollections of the attack begin the week before, on Sunday, Nov. 30, at church.
“I had went up to church the week before, and sat in the back with another Marine,” he said. “In came a brand new ensign. He had just arrived on the base with his young wife.” After the services the officer approached Pina and his buddy, he recalled. “We got to talking and he said ‘You Marines doing anything? How would you like to take a tour of the island, show us what's what’?” Rudy said. “He said ‘Come with us.’ He and his wife drove us all over the island, up to Scofield Barracks and down to the rest of the island.”
He said their sightseeing tour ended at what Pina called “officers country,” a club not open to non-commissioned officers. “We drove up to a sentry, who was surprised to see us enlisted guys, but the ensign said it was okay,” he said. “So we came in, and sat down at a table. We only had 35 cents to drink with.”
Rudy said two nurses on an outrigger moored at the club invited him and his buddy to join them for dinner. “The ensign comes over and said, ‘we’re going to go,” and the nurses said, “we’ll take them home,” Pina said. “We stayed and ate and were swimming, and then dancing in our swimsuits until the place closed at nine o'clock.”
“We told them we lived down at Pearl Harbor, and they drove us down,” he said. The same sentry was surprised to see them this time with the nurses, who told them “never mind, they’re our guests." Before dropping them off at the encampment, Rudy and his buddy tore open their shirts and asked the nurses to smear lipstick on them as a joke "for the other guys to see." The other guys were duly impressed. "A friend asked how did we meet those nurses," Rudy laughed. “At church we said. He said he would be going to church us the next Sunday!"
The next Sunday was December 7.
"That morning everyone had a hang-over.” Rudy had been out jitterbugging the night before, and a photograph of him dancing with a young woman appeared in the Honolulu Times in the December 7, 1941 Sunday morning paper. He kept a copy of that newspaper.
"But I was up and ready to go to church before 8 a.m., but my buddy was slow getting dressed in the tent," Rudy said. Then..."they came from out of the north."
“The first Zero came in and just cleared the tent. I could see his face it was so low,” he said. “He had a big grin on his face." That plane hit the battleship California, which was moored at Ford Island. “Two more came in, and I grabbed a .50 caliber machine gun, and shot the third plane down,” Rudy said. “The guys went to where it came down and got to chopping on the pilot.”
He said while they were shooting at the planes, they were also waiting for orders. “They were dropping bombs and everything else. Sailors were running out in their skivvies. I told them, ‘go in the tent and get what you need’,” he said. “We dragged a couple of guys out of the water and we took some to the mess hall.”
Rudy said he finally got orders when an officer came up to him. “He said, ‘Pina get your ass going, we’ve got to get the ammunition out of here!' We pulled out and a Colonel Hall called ahead to arrange the delivery of ammunition to where it was needed around the harbor.”
“They loaded us up right away and I zig-zaged all the way,” Rudy said. “That was the way to drive the truck around. But one guy got a little piece of shrapnel.” Although the attack lasted about two hours, he said the rest of the day was spent with emergency and rescue efforts. “I had a motorcycle and was sent all over delivering messages and medicine,” Rudy said. “The bike let me get through places a truck or jeep couldn’t. They sent me all over.”
Rudy was also part of an effort to get medical supplies to Ford Island. “They had this tug to get to Ford Island,” he said. “To get there we had to go through a fire so it had four pumps going to get through. We got the medicine over there. They really wrecked that island.”
|Rudy Pina at home in 2007|
"Tarawa was the worst," he said. By the time World War II ended he had been wounded one time. "I did catch a little shrapnel. I was lucky."
His first tour of duty was in Shanghai, China. In early 1941 his unit was split, "one half was transferred to Manila in the Philippines, and my half was sent to Hawaii."