There aren’t too many people still alive who served in the U.S. Navy during the attack on Pearl Harbor 80 years later.
South Lake Tahoe resident Garfield Ware served aboard the USS Lexington. Designated CV-2, the Lexington left Pearl Harbor to ferry aircraft to Midway on Dec. 5, 1941, and was two days out of port when its crew received word of the attack.
That the Lexington wasn’t at Pearl Harbor was a good thing for the American war effort, since the carriers were the main prize sought by the Japanese and their failure to catch them in port directly led to their defeat at Midway, just seven months later.
Ware, 98, talked briefly about his experience and his life with the help of Dan Browne, president of the Lake Tahoe Veterans Alliance.
Ware was born on Feb. 16, 1923, and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 17.
“On 7 December 1941, Lexington was at sea transporting aircraft from Pearl Harbor to Midway, in an effort to reinforce the island, when they were informed the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,” according to a Naval History and Heritage Command. “She immediately launched seaplanes to hunt for the Japanese fleet, and by midmorning rendezvoused with the Indianapolis and Enterprise task forces to search southwest of Oahu before she returned to Pearl Harbor on 13 December.”
Ware said he remembered returning to Pearl after the attack.
“I thought, ‘I’m here, I’ve got to do something,’” Ware said. “I did my duty.”
The site of the attack is now a National Memorial, where visitors can see the USS Arizona and USS Utah shipwrecks and see the names of those who lost their lives.
On May 4, 1942, the Lexington took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea, a four-day struggle between Japan and the United States and Australia.
The Lexington suffered severe damage in the battle and after torpdo and bomb attack had to be abandoned by its crew, which was picked up by her escorting cruisers and destroyers, according to the official history. It was sunk by a U.S. ship as flames shot from its decks.
During the battle, the Lexington lost 200 crew members and 35 aircraft.
“The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first time since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor that the enemy’s relentless advancement in the Pacific was halted,” according to the Navy.
Ware said he didn’t think much about those experiences after the fact. He said he has lived a long, fulfilling life.
He spent 20 years working as a custodian at the California governor’s office, where he served under four governors.
“He has a long history of service to this country and to this state,” Browne said.
He has one daughter, two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
In 2018, he visited Pearl Harbor with his family. The day he arrived, his former ship, The Lady Lex, was discovered fully preserved in the Coral Sea. It still has several aircraft on it that can be seen through the water.
“I made it through and I’m happy I was able to come out of it and enjoy life again,” he said.
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