by Daisy Mae
These are the words I wrote about Mr. Canaday's talk that he gave to my class.
Former United States Navy
To This Day, A Hero
This is the story of Charles (Chuck) Canaday, written November 15, 2010, the day after his 90th birthday. Mr. Canaday came to speak to our class today, to tell his story so we would be fortunate enough to have a first-hand account of a Pearl Harbor survivor. What I realized quite quickly, though, was that his story transcended that one day, and rather embodied an era. It is a story that I do not think should be forgotten, but should be recorded for generations to come. I will by no means do this great man justice, but if I can only put a few of his memories to paper I feel like I will have done my job of honoring him the best way I know how.
Mr. Canaday and his wife came to my social studies methods class, they were there early and prepared. (Mr. Canaday was scheduled to come speak a few weeks ago, but he was bucked off of his horse and had to go to the doctor instead. I love this part of the story because at the age of 89, he was still living life and doing something that he loves.) Mr. Canaday entered our classroom and got situated on the chair setting out his books, with the pictures marked with sticky notes. Our teacher, Dr. Enos, explained to him how he needed to speak through the mike and then he began. His voice was deep and gravelly, with a little whistle effect to it.
He began his story with the morning of December 7, 1941, when he was stationed on land in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (he was a part of the submarine division of the Navy). He remembers the sirens, but being confused at first to their meaning. Then he remembers his commanding officer telling all the men to grab rifles and ammunition. They all grabbed guns out of a supply unit, but there was not any ammunition. So, with some other men, Charles drove across base to where the ammunition was stored. He pauses here, before saying that by the time they got back it was too late. The raids were over two hours after they began. He then takes time to account for all of the places that were hit, remembering names with startling clarity. With some pride he tells how the Japanese made a fatal error in not bombing the submarine base, because they were a vital asset in the coming years.
After this, Mr. Canaday, travels even farther back in time to the January of 1941. He was on leave from the CCC and had came home to Chadron, Nebraska. (I should note that it is the same Chadron, Nebraska that he still lives in today.) Charles' real passion was working with horses, so he found a job at a local ranch working for a Miss Christine Christopherson (in his words a maid). He said that at this time if a man found private employment he could be discharged from the CCC (which was great for him because he did not want to return to the barracks). He told the story of waiting for Miss Christopherson's hired man to come and pick him up at the Texaco in Chadron (there were two at the time) and how he had waited at the one on Main Street when the old pickup covered in gumbo was waiting for him at the corner of 2nd and 3rd (where Peterson's Drug now stands). They finally found each other and Charles headed out to the ranch in ruts (he said) that were almost as deep as the table he was sitting at was high. He said he worked there until May, he loved his job and working for Miss Christopherson, just not her brothers. He said there was an old yellow rooster who would attack you on sight, which gave the brothers the idea to tell their sister that Charles provoked not only poultry, but the bulls as well. Charles decided that he did not want to put up with this and so he quit.
He worked a short stint on two other ranches, but then decided to join the Navy. He knew, along with many other young men that it was inevitable that the United States would soon enter the war in Europe and when he turned twenty-one (that coming November) he would be drafted. So, in order to choose which branch he would enter he went to the recruiting office in Scottsbluff to join. He said that there were a lot of questions asked of him, one being whether or not he had ever had a head injury. Here he stops to explain that in 1932 he had been hit by a car, been knocked unconscious and hurt his ankle. So he wrote that he had had a head injury. The recruiting officer told him that the Navy did not want him, nor any man with a head injury. Charles protested that that long past injury would not hamper his ability to serve his country, but he was turned away. This would not stop him, though, and a while later, on July 4, 1941, he entered the Chadron recruiting office. Low and behold the same recruiting officer was there! Luckily though, he did not have as good a memory as Charles and gave him the test again. Mr. Canaday looked up at us and smiled at this point and said that this time when it asked if he had ever had a head injury he put none.
Now Charles was officially in the Navy and went first to Denver and then to San Diego for boot camp. While doing a drill there he said that his commanding officer (who must have also been a horse trader) went and stood on a box and began telling all of the wonderful things about being in the submarine division. They had better pay, better food, he made it seem the best decision ever. So, Charles said, many young men, along with himself stepped forward to volunteer for this job. With pride and a smile he said that he was pretty sure that he was the first one out of seven total chosen.
They were given a little training and then sent off for Pearl Harbor. He said, though, that right away it was found that their ship had a bent propeller and they were delayed in leaving trying to get it fixed in Oakland. (Just a side note it was amazing how detailed his memory was for names and places of long ago. He would become frustrated if he could not remember some minute detail that most people today, maybe even then, would just take for granted. For example when showing us pictures out of his book he would tell you the names of the ships and what became of them even though he could not read the words due to his eyesight. That just amazed me, that his mind was so sharp and willing to share all (or most all it) knew, but more on that in a bit). Anyway, the ship finally set off, and it was in the middle of the Pacific during the six day transport that Charles “celebrated” his twenty-first birthday. Less than a month later Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Charles remembered the name of the man (which I have forgotten scarcely an hour later) who refused to take the entail learned to prepare for an attack. (He says that he knew that that man was forced to resign, but he also knew that he got a government job that payed more than any Navy wage.) Dr. Enos had explained to us before that Mr. Canaday was raised in an era where you do not tell children bad news, and beings that for the most part there was a seventy year age gap, we were most definitely children. Therefore, you could tell that he remembered the cleanup that ensued after the bombing that December day, but all he would talk about was getting the ships on dry-dock to repair. He mentioned once that 3,000 men lost their lives, but when questioned he did not want to talk about that, or rather you could see in his face that he could not talk about it.
Charles was sent out on a ship into the Pacific Islands and spent a great deal of the war there. He did not really get the chance to elaborate on this (because of time), but he did say that when the war ended he was stationed on Guam. He said here that a higher-ranking officer once asked him (calling him Red – because his hair was red and not white then) if he wanted to stay on for fourteen years he would then receive $300 a week pension upon retiring from the Navy. Mr. Canaday said that he was most adamant that after his six year were up he was leaving the Navy and returning to horses and firm ground. He said he got sick of not having floors, ceilings, doors, or windows (rather decks, port holes, and such other ship terminology).
One story that his wife prompted him to tell was about when on a ship (working on the fire crew) one fire room caught on fire (though the reasoning behind it he never clarified, but his wife had mentioned it being torpedoed). This fire occurred only minutes before he as well as the rest of the crew of 6-8 men were to go on duty there. In other words it was a very close scrape. Here, though, as well, he really seemed to avoid the topic. I think it would be completely impossible for any of us sitting there that day to imagine the horrors that Mr. Canaday saw and felt, not only that day, but throughout the war. His not speaking of it was his way of protecting us, just like he protected his country all those years ago.
When asked where he was and how he felt when he heard of the war's ending he replied that he was stationed in Guam. He said that the reservists who had served their time were happy because they could go home, but Charles had enlisted for six years, so he still had time left to serve in the Navy. He said, though, with tears in his eyes that he could not describe the feelings he had when he knew the war was over. He had his Pearl Harbor hat on and he pulled the rim down over his eyes, ducked his head and repeated that he could not explain it. He paused for a minute and then, raising the brim of his hat once more he went on to talk about after his time in Guam was up and how he was sent home on leave.
While home he married, and hoped that he would be stationed on the coast. His wishes were for naught, though, because he was sent back to Pearl Harbor to serve his final year. He said that he applied right away for housing, and started out on the list at number eight (the person at number one getting the next available house). He said when checking in later he was at number fourteen. How could this be? He asked this and was told that those working on reconstruction got first priority. So, only days before his service was over he went back to the housing office to ask where he was on the list. He was at number one! He told the person there that they could take him off the list because he was going home!
A classmate of mine asked Mr. Canaday if he had ever returned to Pearl Harbor. He said no, and that he had no desire ever to do so. It has been over sixty years since Mr. Canaday has left the Navy and I feel so thankful and blessed that I was able to hear him speak. He ended his presentation by wishing us all a better future, hoping we would never have to go through the things he did. He prayed for us, which brought tears to many an eye, and then there was silence. I knew that we should clap, but somehow it felt wrong to break the silence of the moment, which stretched on to a minute. Finally Dr. Enos gave us the OK and we did applaud Mr. Canaday, for what he did for his country, and for what he gave us. I am writing this to remember (because my memory is nothing compared to his) and also so that his story will not be completely lost. I do not know if he has written about his life, or if someone has done this for him, but I hope that it has been done.
In the future when I look back on what I have written today I hope that I will be able to remember his face, the sound of his voice, and the atmosphere that he brought with him into our classroom. I do know, though, that as I am doing now, I will give thanks to him and to all those who chose to serve others in their lifetimes, whether or not it be in a military uniform. This sincere thank you is for Mr. Canaday, but also for all of the men and women who sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice, their own dreams and comforts so that others may have the chance.