SGT William “Bill” Gordon Ely was born in a small town in Ohio called Gallipolis. As a child starting at 8 years old, he worked on the family farm. Just 9 years later during The Depression, Bill decided to join the Army, pre-WWII. He was determined to enlist, so he lied about his age due to him only being 17 years old.
While touring the South Pacific on assignment, he finally landed what he believed was the dream base, Pearl Harbor. He wrote back home to his Mother and bragged about how he was living in paradise and was so happy. He was having fun barbequing on the beach with the boys and catching all kinds of fish including a 40-pound octopus!
Reading this, I am certain you know what is coming next. Shortly after being stationed at Pearl Harbor came that horrible and fateful day. Just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, “Bill” was on the porch of the barracks because of the luckiest upset stomach ever from a cucumber salad the night before, which saved his life. The airfields were the first attacked and more than 2,335 men were lost there. All at once his paradise was turned into sheer pandemonium. 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 raining down all kinds of artillery all around him. The attack lasted a total of 90 minutes, which felt like an eternity. In just 90 minutes of terror, 2,400 people were dead and 1,100 more were seriously wounded.
My Dad spent four grueling days and nights looking for survivors. Emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually drained he pushed forward. He tended to as many wounded as he could, while he was wounded as well. He even dove into the blazing water rescuing many 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 mother 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 next to the only piece of the USS Arizona 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!
My Dad’s story compounded with many other pieces is what led me to do what I do today, lift Veterans up and help make their lives better, in many cases even save their lives. I am blessed and honored to do what I do every day. Thank you, Dad, you’re mine and so many other’s hero.
Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Son and Veterans’ Outreach Founder- John Ely