William Gordon Ely was born in Gallipolis, Ohio, where he worked on the family farm when he was just 8 years old. Dad later faced the Depression with his family and joined the service at 17 when he lied about his age.
He was finally stationed at Pearl Harbor after touring the South Pacific and wrote to his mom that he found paradise, bragging about catching a 40-pound octopus and having a barbecue on the beach with the guys. Just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, “Bill” was on the porch of the barracks because of an upset stomach from cucumber salad the night before, which saved his life.
The airfields were the first attacked and more than 2,335 men were lost there. Dad was a paramedic, so he was racing off in his ambulance truck just trying to get away from the Japanese aircraft, or Zeros, which were strafing him on both sides of his vehicle. The attack lasted a total of 90 minutes and left 2,400 dead and 1,100 wounded.
My dad tended to as many wounded as he could, while he was wounded as well. He even dove in the blazing water rescuing many other of those attacked men at the Harbor.. After the attack, he spent days administering blood and glucose constantly, especially, to one seriously burned victim.
The hospital was overloaded, so Dad would change his bandages, and even slept with that man to keep him warm, so he wouldn’t go into shock. That man’s mom wrote a letter to my dad thanking him for saving her son’s life.
The letter was shown to the Red Cross and the charity started a blood drive, using the importance of that story. My dad went on to be a founder of the “Pearl Harbor Survivors” Columbus chapter, and co-founder of eight other chapters. He was best friends with the man that started a Military Museum., Mott’s Military Museum.
He left in his will a major donation to the Mott’s Military Museum of Columbus, to help with the expansion of the new wing, where his Pearl Harbor coat and memorabilia are on display. He had a photographic memory, which was tortuous to him. Every time, though, he had a chance to talk about that historic day, he wouldn’t hesitate. He was A CONSTANT reminder of that horrific day when the world came to a halt. He is forever thankful that Warren Mott and his Museum would be there to tell the story, always!
“Lest we forget,” Dad, you are part of history!
Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Son…John Ely