Bob Tyson is 81 years old and he can take you back to 1941 like it was yesterday.
“It makes a powerful impression on the mind of a child,” Tyson says. ” Something like that happening especially if it’s on your dad’s birthday.”
Tyson, just 5 years old, and so excited about celebrating his father’s 33rd.
“I was awake and I heard airplanes roaring. And I looked out, and there were these little silver airplanes coming through that pass like gangbusters.”
At first he thought it was all for his dad, the Army officer getting a grand celebration to start that Sunday. A child’s magical misperception that died fast.
“These were just tearing through there real low. Right over the top of the house they came. A hundred of them. Then the bombing started, and the strifing started, and they were shooting up everything around there.”
His father tried to protect his family.
“And I had my bathrobe on. And he grabbed me behind the neck by that bathrobe and jerked me up, took me down the stairs and threw me behind the couch that he’d pulled out from the wall. And my mother and my brother were already back there. And he threw me back there and pushed the thing back up against the wall and piled all kinds of furniture over the top of the couch there.”
Dad raced out to meet up with his regiment and fight. They manned machine guns on Waikiki beach in case the enemy came back. And one of them did. Crashed his plane right across the street.
“The men around there stormed the plane and the pilot was just about dead and this guy hit him over the head with a stick or a baseball bat or something, and whacked him over the head. He was just about dead already, and I’m sure that took him out completely.”
Then his dad grabbed a hacksaw and got this. A souvenir. Part of the wing.
At one point Tyson’s father threw his family in the car and drove across a golf course to try to find shelter. A Japanese pilot found them.
“My mother would say, ‘here he’s coming from the right, honey. He’s coming from the right.’ Dad would jerk the car around behind a sand trap somewhere you know, ’til he flew over. He’d take off and go in the other direction.” ‘He’s coming from the right now. He’s coming from the right.”
77 years have done nothing to diminish Tyson’s memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A morning when the bombs weren’t the only things exploding. A little boy’s innocence got blown away on Oahu that day. A child who, like most children, thought mom and dad could take care of everything.
“Sometimes other things happen, you know? And they were not in control on December the 7th, 1941, there were scared, both of them.”
A few weeks later Tyson’s family left Hawaii for Wrightsville, Georgia. He grew up, signed up, and served with distinction in Vietnam. A decorated Army officer.
(Brad): “Silver Star.”
(Mr. Tyson): “Uh huh.”
(Brad): “Two Silver Stars.”
(Mr. Tyson): “Yeah. And this is a Bronze Star.”
And two Purple Hearts. What a life. A life of service that started with a jarring experience etched on a very young mind. I wanted to walk out of Robert D. Tyson’s home and tell everybody I met a hero. He told me not to.
“The heroes are on the wall,” he says. “Up in Washington. You know the wall where they have all the 55-thousand names engraved that died in Vietnam. Those are the heroes. The guys that made it through, we were the survivors.”