Before They Bombed Us        

     With the sneak attack on our fleet, the Japanese opened hostilities against America on December 7th, 1941.   Yet, back then, this was not their first aggression upon our navy.   There had been the Panay incident in 1937, but Japan treated that as a mistake.  They attacked the gunboat Panay, but claimed they didn't see the American flags painted on its deck, apologized and paid indemnity.   But closer in time to December 1941, they interfered with our naval operations.

     Before they bombed us at Pearl Harbor, at least two of our naval vessels encountered the Japanese in aggressive maneuvers, each at a different time, once on the Yangtze River of China, and once on the open sea. Aboard ship on both occasions was Victor Reynolds, Boatswain's Mate 2nd and gunnery assistant from Peoria, Illinois, an eye-witness to history. 1

     I had first seen and heard Reynolds when he spoke at a veteran's event at a school in Peoria, and months later, I sought him out, to speak with him. My wife Serafina and I met him at his home with his wife Lucille. Their granddaughter Kelsey was helping her Grandpa, and affectionate to both her grandparents. Before I took leave of them, we also met their daughter Molly who came to fix them a meal.   On another occasion, we also met another daughter, Terry, who had came to provide a meal.2

     Reynold's story is part of the broad mosaic depicting our country's great conflict with the belligerency of the Japanese Empire during the 1940's. His experience and that of his ships were among the first pieces of the mosaic to be set in place...on the eve of war, just before.

     It was November 25th, 1941, and the USS Wake, was tied up at a pontooned causeway at Hankow (now called Wuhan), on the Yangtze River, deep in the interior of China. 3   The Wake was ordered to proceed down the Yangtze to Shanghai, a considerable distance downstream. The next day, on Nov. 26th, as they were making preparations to get underway, they went to general quarters when Japanese marines advanced down the causeway, taking up positions with machine guns on the starboard side, fore and aft of them. It appeared to Reynolds they are going to board them. The soldiers of Nippon wouldn't let anyone dockside, to throw off the lines. The sailors on the Wake were on alert, battle ready

     When they had enough steam up, Chief Boatswain's Mate Rawlings took a fire ax and chopped the mooring lines. Their ship drifted away from the dock, and started to make headway. Two Japanese destroyers pulled up on their port side, to hem them in.  The Wake defied the maneuver.  Reynolds was at the helm and the Captain told him to go between the destroyers.   The young sailor steered between the warships, made a 180-degree turn and headed downstream for Shanghai.   While the actions of the Japanese were aggressive, and a clear interference by their military, they didn't  fire upon the American vessel, undoubtedly for a reason. 4

     They were traveling coastward on longest river in Asia, flowing about 4,000 miles out to sea.   On the evening of the 28th, they reached Shanghai, where he saw military forces in the process of leaving.  Reynolds was transferred aboard the USS Luzon, with others of his crew, and early the next morning they headed out to sea, with another flat-bottomed river gunboat, the USS Oahu.   On the Luzon 5 (below), part of its deck was only six feet above the water's surface.  Aboard was Admiral Glassford, Commander of the Yangtze Patrol, called in  naval terminology YANGPAT.  The Admiral had been the one who led the first convoy of destroyers into England, in 1917 or 18, bringing help to the British.

     On the morning of the second day out, numerous Japanese bombers flew over them on a north-south course, at a low altitude. That evening, off Formosa, Reynolds was again on wheel watch and at the helm, when they encountered a column of Japanese warships. It looked to him as if they are passing through the whole fleet, a force that would later attack the Philippines, Hong Kong and French Indochina. A Japanese destroyer left formation and approached the Luzon; the destroyer was at general quarters. Confronted with this, the Luzon sounded general quarters, readying for battle. The Japanese vessel trained her guns on the Luzon, and Luzon responded in kind.   In part, it was 5-inch Japanese guns against 3-inch American guns. In this respect, the Americans were outgunned.

     The destroyer pulled alongside, and flashing its lights, it signaled the Luzon, "To turn around and proceed back to your previous anchorage."  Reynolds, speaking with a sense of respect and admiration for the admiral aboard the Luzon, remembered what happened.  Undaunted and with no hesitation in his voice,  Admiral Glassford told "Hump" Campbell, the Chief Quartermaster, "Mr.  Campbell, send the following message: 'We are proceeding on our present course, at our present rate of speed. Bon Voyage.' "  At the wheel, Reynolds held their course.  It, and the incident on the Yangtze, while small actions, were nonetheless proud moments in the history of the United States Navy.   Reynolds not only participated in these events, but he was hands-on, steering the American vessels.

     Reynolds thought that the Japanese were going to open fire and sink them, but the destroyer returned to her formation. He later thought that maybe they didn't want to tip the Americans off, to their plans for Pearl Harbor.

     It was the 30th day of November, and already the Japanese First Air Fleet, a carrier strike force, was heading for Hawaii. Departing on Nov. 26th, this was their fourth day en route. Negotiations between Japan and the U.S. were going on, and if successful to Japan, the understanding was that the fleet would turn back. In the meantime, they continued their course over the ocean, toward that fateful day beyond the horizon.   In a figurative way, dark and ominous clouds of war were moving across the Pacific.

     The next morning, as the Luzon rounded the tip of Formosa  --  and as if forecasting the storm about to break, far to the east  -- they ran into a storm of their own, a typhoon that blew with winds in excess of 100 mph, roughing the sea with waves 30 to 40 feet high. Reynolds said about 40% of the time the boat's propellers were out of the water. One time their sister ship the Oahu, rolled sideways, tipping it 49 degrees, when another wave washed into her, pushing the ship back from this frightful angle. They radioed an emergency to the Naval Command in Manila, and the Navy sent out several ships to help them. They finally emerged from the storm and steamed into Manila Harbor, anchoring on December 6th, 1941. A Manila newspaper called it “The Most Daring Sea Voyage of Modern Times.” Back in the U.S., across the International Date line, it was Dec. 5th on the calendar. It was one more full day of peace, before the coming storm made landfall at Oahu, the namesake of the Luzon's sister ship, so buffeted by the typhoon.

     On Dec. 8th, Philippine time, Reynolds was asleep on deck, on the back of the ship, when a commotion awakened him. A Lt. Commander came running, yelling to darken the ship, breaking the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.   The storm had broken over Hawaii!...and with it, the thunder of war, leaving death and destruction.   The day of infamy !
  --John Riedell
 Prior to these incidents, the Japanese ships would try to “escort” them, but the American sailors would steam ahead, leaving them behind.  You might say the Wake left them in her wake
Although Reynolds was told he's never have children because of what he'd gone through as a prisoner, he had three sons (Denny, Kevin and David) and three daughters (Molly, Terry and Sally).  David, now deceased, served in Vietnam Nam and was a victim of Agent Orange.
. Hankow was one of the Yangtze River cities opened for trade by treaty in 1858. Many clipper ships loaded tea there, including the British Cutty Sark.
. Reynolds said the Japanese were trying to stop them from getting away, and saw a gunboat to capture.  It would seem they wanted to frighten the Americans from leaving by a show of force.   It didn't work.   The 26th was the same day their carrier strike fleet began to head out across the Pacific.
5.  Picture from the internet, taken from off the computer screen.  The picture of Reynolds in his naval uniform, was photographed from a picture Reynolds has in his home. 

               (To read more about Victor Reynolds, see "A POW Remembers," also on the Stories page)

Return to Home Page    


Copyright © 2006 - John Riedell - All Rights Reserved
Site Last Updated on 11/10/13