2 men share stories of Pearl Harbor attack through voices, words

By: Katie Beasley Email
By: Katie Beasley Email
Alvin Mays

Augusta native Alvin Mays says within a matter of minutes he went from an Army mechanic to an Army soldier the morning bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor. (WRDW-TV / Dec. 7, 2011)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's a day that will live in infamy -- a day that forever changed both the U.S. and world history.

Sadly, every year the number of Pearl Harbor survivors grows smaller and smaller as each of their stories fade away, but for these two men it's still a day they'll never forget.

Augusta native Alvin Mays says within a matter of minutes he went from an Army mechanic to an Army soldier the morning bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor.

"Just as I was finishing breakfast, coming out of the barracks there. I began to hear this noise and it was far away, like thunder. It began to get a lot closer and a lot louder," Mays said.

About 14 miles away from the harbor, the technical sergeant watched as barrack after barrack was attacked.

"They raised up to treetop level and came in on the 21st infantry, that's where I was standing out front there, and they strafed those barracks pretty heavy. You could see the pilots in the plane," Mays said.

The 89-year-old says everyone jumped into action, worried the attack wasn't over.

"There may be ground troops fixing to invade the island, too, because we had nothing to fight with at that time. They had done destroyed what we had," he said. "We hadn't been trained for no aerial attacks or nothing like that."

Another man's account is on display at the Nancy Carson Library in North Augusta. It's a journal with the words of William S. McCain, a Navy seaman whose ship pulled into the harbor hours after the attack.

He describes the scene like this, "The truth began to dawn slowly on us; as we entered the dock, the full horror came into view. I can only try to do justice to the most dreadful scene it has ever been my privilege to witness."

He goes on to say, "A city of tents were spread on the shore nearby, and groups of sailors idly watched us. The sight of any wrecked ship always momentarily saddens a seaman, but to see this beautiful battleship aground, looking for all the world like a wounded alligator on the edge of a swamp, was strangely pitiful."

They are two men, two stories from one unforgettable Sunday morning.

After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Mays ended up being deployed to Australia, then to the Philippines. He fought on the front lines of six different battles before being ordered back to the U.S. the same day the atomic bomb was dropped.

He moved back to Augusta and has been a businessman ever since.

We really don't know much about William S. McCain, the man behind the journal. A librarian received the journal when someone in his family threw it out. All we know is he was on a ship headed to Pearl Harbor the day it was attacked.

These men are not alone. Several folks in our area were also in Hawaii that day. Quentin Shivers was on a ship docked in the harbor. It was his 21st birthday.

News 12's Katie Beasley spoke with him on this date in 2010.

"The Arizona, when it turned over, it was full of men. They couldn't get out. It was just a big ole coffin and they were still alive," Shivers explained.

Maj. Gen. Perry Smith was only 6 years old and was on the way to church when he saw the bombings. Even then, he says he knew how it important it was.

"I kept saying to myself, if I live to be a really old guy, I may be the last witness who can remember," Perry told News 12's Katie Beasley on December 7, 2009.

He's now a retired Air Force general. Last month, the new parkway at Augusta Regional Airport was named in his honor.

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