Sammamish man returns to Pearl Harbor for first time since just missing day of infamy

June 29, 2010

By Christopher Huber

Above, Gerald Treacy Sr., far right, poses with his B-24 flight crew in 1942. At right, Treacy sits at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, earlier this month, with the Arizona Memorial in the background. Contributed

On Dec. 3, 1941, Gerald Treacy Sr. was called away from Hickam Field, adjacent to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to attend his father’s funeral.

Four days later, he was in New Jersey when the Japanese attacked. At Hickam alone, 121 men were killed, and 274 were wounded.

“I would’a been right there,” Treacy said.

When he got back from the short furlough, they were still putting out fires and dealing with the aftermath, he said.

“The way he described it was just chaos,” said Treacy’s son, Gerald Treacy Jr.

Father and son returned to Pearl Harbor June 1-6 to celebrate the elder Treacy’s 92nd birthday and visit the memorial and other sites he experienced during the war. It was his first time back since 1942.

The longtime Sammamish resident saw close friends and fellow service members killed in World War II. He openly talks about his war experience, but tends to remember the humorous and lighthearted aspects of his time as a navigator in the 13th Army Air Corps.

The elder Treacy fondly recounts his time with the nine- to 10-member B-24 flight crew and the things they did to lighten the mood while flying spy missions in the Pacific region. Like when the radioman didn’t strap on a parachute, telling Treacy he would simply hang onto him if they had to evacuate. Or the time Treacy nearly fell out of the bomb bay, but a reconnaissance camera’s power cable saved him.

“I remember the good memories,” Treacy said from his home at Spiritwood at Pine Lake.

Treacy, who was a sergeant, served from 1941-1946 and spent the first two years stationed at Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor.

“He was happy, but sad. Very somber,” the younger Treacy said of seeing his father relive the good and bad memories. “It was overwhelming for him to see it again.”

During his five years in the Army Air Corps, the elder Treacy served in Hawaii, New Guinea, the Philippines and Guam, he said. He nearly became a prisoner of war in the Philippines when a rebel soldier accosted him at bayonet-point one night. The elder Treacy said he made a joke with the soldier and walked away, knowing a gunshot would give away the rebels’ position.“He couldn’t shoot me, because it would make a noise,” Treacy said.

As a navigator flying in modified B-24 bombers, he and his crew would spend up to 17 hours a day in the skies over the Pacific. He mainly navigated and conducted high-elevation reconnaissance photography, but also managed gunners.

“Everybody was everybody’s friend,” the elder Treacy said. “I just got them where they needed to go. I got ‘em there and back.”

He still keeps in touch with a former crewmember, Bill Hoag, 88. Hoag, a second lieutenant, flew B-24s and trained with Treacy in Los Angeles in 1945.

“He was a great guy,” said Hoag, who lives near Tampa, Fla., and exchanges letters regularly with Treacy. “Nobody ever had any trouble with him. He did his job and that was that.”

Although Hoag didn’t serve with Treacy in Pearl Harbor, he, too, recounted the lighthearted times. Both men remembered scaring new ball-turret gunners into thinking that they would spin right off the bottom of the plane if they rotated too many times clockwise.

The trip to Hawaii helped the elder Treacy see how things changed and also provided some closure on his service experience. The younger Treacy also got to finally visualize some of the places in his father’s stories.

“He’s talked about going back … since (I was) growing up,” the younger Treacy said. “It was great. He was beside himself, but there were also long moments of silence. He said, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’”

The elder Treacy still appreciates what his service meant to the United States and to his personal and family life — he won numerous medals and awards and remains involved with the American Legion. But he likened that period to losing five or six years of one’s life.

In the 1940s, navigators used the stars to orient themselves, Treacy Sr. said. Having lived in Sammamish since 1986, he doesn’t get to see the stars as much as he’d like. The view was much clearer during his return to Pearl Harbor, he said.

“It was good for him to see the stars,” Treacy Jr. said.

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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