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Pearl Harbor firefighter: ‘I thought the end of the world was coming’

Edward Waszkiewicz, who was 20 at the time of the attacks, was serving at Pearl Harbor when he witnessed the attacks unfold


By FireRescue1 Staff

CAMARILLO, Calif. — On the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a former Navy firefighter who was stationed in Hawaii reflected on the date that “will live in infamy.”

Edward Waszkiewicz, 95, who was 20 at the time of the attacks, was serving at Pearl Harbor when he witnessed the attacks unfold. Waszkiewicz told USA Today he saw three planes swoop down onto a row of eight U.S. battleships stating, “Then all hell broke loose. That’s when the war really started.”

American ships burn during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1942. (AP Photo)
American ships burn during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1942. (AP Photo)

Waszkiewicz said he joined the Navy as a platform to travel the world and financially support his Polish immigrant parents.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Waszkiewicz was driving a fire truck to an oil tanker ship. From there, he watched Japanese forces drop bombs on ships. 

“The explosion was so violent. I thought the end of the world was coming. Pieces of ship fell everywhere,” Waszkiewicz said. 

Waszkiewicz said he dove into the water as bullets rippled through the port. He then got back into the fire truck and drove to the firehouse, where he and fire crews began extinguishing fires.

“You really didn’t have time to be afraid, but I’m sure the thought ran through my head at the time,” Waszkiewicz said. “There were quite a few fires that had to be fought, and I was busy doing that.”

Following the attack, Waszkiewicz saw many injured or dead. He remained in Hawaii for another five or six months and continued his firefighter training; he retired from the Navy as chief warrant officer in 1962. 

Waszkiewicz traveled to Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary, but has no special plans this year. 

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