FAIRLAND - He heard the drone of a war plane early on Dec. 7, 1941, and felt certain that when he looked skyward he would see another Navy plane on maneuvers over Pearl Harbor.
That was not the case.
Karl Lengquist saw the plane tip its wing - exposing the fiery red ball of a Japanese aircraft - dive forward and then release the first bomb that fell on what has since been called “a day that will live in infamy.”
The bomb hit the enlisted men's barracks, according to Lengquist, and claimed the first of 147 men who died on Hickam Field that day.
The air field, which lies adjacent to Pearl Harbor, was an early target in Japan's sneak attack. The strategy was to prevent a counterattack against the Japanese bombers and torpedo planes by destroying the B-17 bombers and other aircraft resting on the air base. Hickam held 51 aircraft that day.
Seconds later, subsequent planes peeled away from formation and dropped two more bombs that shook the field as targets were hit in battleship row.
The sunny and fragrant Sunday morning turned dark and putrid, according to Lengquist.
“It was chaos,” Lengquist said as he thumbed through a thick book of photographs from his days at Pearl Harbor.
Lengquist and a fellow soldier, Leo Derisinski, met up on Hickam Field on the morning of Dec. 7 and planned to embark on what was supposed to be a pleasant Sunday morning excursion into town.
Realizing that the base was under attack and the barracks building they were in was likely a target, the men ran to seek shelter.
The concussion of the trio of explosions had lifted a heavy cover off of an underground utility service tunnel.
“Three of us lifted that lid a little more and slid it far enough over that we could slip into that hole,” Lengquist said.
The trio spent about an hour there before the “all clear” was issued and survivors began to muster.
Just before Lengquist and Derisinski found their way to the sub-surface safety, an incendiary bomb hit a vehicle holding four soldiers who were waiting to pick up a fifth rider - probably planning on their own island excursion.
“It killed them instantly … right there,” Lengquist said. “It just incinerated them. The fire was white hot.”
Lengquist said he has talked very little about the day since he departed military service in 1945.
“But, there is not a week that goes by that I do not think of that day,” he said.
It is only by the prompting of a Fairland woman, Margaret Burris, that Lengquist granted his recent interview.
“I think it is important to note that you could talk to every single man who was at Pearl Harbor that day and every story would be different,” Lengquist said. “Our perspectives are all different.”
Lengquist, who was part of the 98th Bombardment Squadron, said the air was thick with smoke with the smell of fuel, burning flesh, spent oil and magnesium.
“You don't get the true feeling of war until you smell it,” Lengquist said, noting that what is depicted in photographs and written accounts fall short of the experience.
His eyes teared as he recounted a 1989 trip back to the island.
Among the numerous friends that are buried in a national cemetery there, a white cross marks the grave of his younger brother, Frederick Phillip Lengquist.
The two were stationed on the island for a short time together before the younger, a gunner, was killed in action in 1942..
“I think (returning to Pearl Harbor) is about the hardest thing I have ever done,” Lengquist said.
It has been 66 years since Lengquist watched as a Japanese bomber released the bomb that officially launched him into World War II.
Then, he was a 22-year-old blond-haired boy from Riverton, Kan., who had no idea that his military service would put him into several major engagements and bring him a silver star and a bronze medal.
His story is among many currently being archived in the News-Record's “Operation Remember.”
For more on the project or two submit names of World War II and Korean War veterans - living or deceased - contact the News-Record at 542-5533.