He was thinking about breakfast after guard duty on a long-ago Sunday morning that was about to change the course of history.
The date: Dec. 7, 1941. Without warning, Calvin Leisure, the Schofield Army Barracks, Pearl Harbor and the United States were under attack. Leisure, a Cool Springs native, took cover near Wheeler Field and fired some of the first shots in the war with Japan.
After firing his M1 rifle’s one clip with eight rounds at a diving Japanese Zero fighter, he dove into a golf course sand trap and “hoped to God” he’d make it.
He was one of the lucky ones. Before the day ended, 2403 men, women, and children were killed—and 1178 wounded—in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Now 87, Leisure is one of 14 Pearl Harbor survivors living in Kentucky. He traveled to Frankfort recently with members of Ohio County’s PFC Wesley Phelps Memorial Honor Guard at the invitation of Senator Jerry Rhoads. While in the state Capitol, Leisure and his fellow veterans – spanning WWII to Afghanistan – were honored for their service to the nation in the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Senate Resolution 40 honored Leisure’s bravery under fire in the attack on Pearl Harbor. PFC Wesley Phelps (USMC), a Neafus, KY native, was commemorated in Rhoad’s Senate Resolution 159. It also recognized and commended the Honor Guard bearing his name for their service to the memory of veterans across Ohio, Butler, Grayson, and Logan Counties.
Private First Class Wesley Phelps was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration. While serving as a United States Marine during World War II, Phelps gave his life to save a fellow marine by throwing himself on a live grenade during the battle on Peleliu Island.
Leisure’s story and those of many other Ohio County veterans have not been preserved in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project (VHP). Charlotte Whittaker of Hartford plans to change that and is organizing a special recording session to capture these stories.
VHP was launched in 2000 with a congressional mandate for “collecting, preserving, and sharing the rich, one-of-a-kind oral histories of men and women” who served their country. Now, more than a decade later, it has preserved 68,000 stories that otherwise would have been lost to history. About 900 of those tales are from Kentucky.
AARP Kentucky has supported this effort from the beginning and was recognized by the VHP program as one continuing founding partner. Whittaker who now serves on the AARP Kentucky Executive Council is working with Don Rose of Winchester, a veteran and AARP volunteer to video tape, record these Kentucky heroes’ stories for future generations. Rose has interviewed some 225 veterans for the VHP project.
According to Whittaker, “We have a duty to tell our children and grandchildren the stories of what these heroes gave in service to protect our freedoms today.”
Whittaker and Rose plan to complete the interviews in time for a special recognition before Memorial Day.
Discover more stories of Kentucky’s veterans online.