Pearl Harbor attack still haunts
STOCKTON — Who knows — John Bacon may have been the first American to fire against the Japanese in World War II.
Bacon was a 17-year-old Navy seaman second class, just awake and alone at his post at Oahu's Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, when the first wave of Japanese fighters and bombers approached 72 years ago today.
"I had the duty," Bacon said. "I was in the ready room when I heard 'rat-tat-tat.' I thought I'd go outside and shoot back. I grabbed the only rifle that worked, a .30-caliber Springfield. I got on the other side of the hangar, I knelt down, and I fired back."
It was almost 7:50 a.m. that Sunday — Dec. 7, 1941 — and the attack on Pearl Harbor was underway.
Kaneohe was the first ground installation hit, and Bacon received a citation for being the first in his squadron to shoot at the enemy.
He is almost 90 today, still active and employed.
John Bacon has never forgotten the fear and anger of that bright-blue, long-ago morning in Hawaii.
"There was nobody firing but me. I was scared, but it's what I went into the service for," he said. "I didn't realize I could get killed, but when you are young, you don't think about those things."
Bacon, a Navy mechanic, had been inside the hangar getting a PBY — an airplane known as a flying boat — ready for a routine patrol when the attack started. Within minutes, the hangar filled up with others from his squadron — the famed VP-11, a Navy patrol squadron that received a presidential citation later in the war.
About 20 or so sailors were trying to hide in a closet where Coca-Cola was stored.
"Somebody yelled, 'Bombers are coming.' That was not the place to be," he said. "Outside the building, there was a sewer line. It was about 5 feet deep. I left the hangar and got in there. Thank God. It's how I survived. I'm glad I got out of that hangar. It took two bomb hits. Not many came out alive from my squadron."
Bacon served in the Navy throughout the war in the Pacific Theater and came to Stockton in 1947. His parents had moved to the city from Southern California. As the decades passed, he married twice, had four daughters, moved to Napa for 30 years and then came back to Stockton.
In the early '80s, a few years before returning to Stockton, Bacon discovered his passion in life: the Ford Mustang.
"In 1964, the first Mustang came out. I couldn't afford to buy one, but I loved that car," he said. Then, just wbefore retiring two decades later, he found a Wimbledon white fastback model in Fairfield. It was on sale for $300. "I rebuilt it. I did that. I put my whole heart into it."
He also hooked up with Scott Drake, founder of Nevada-based Drake Automotive Group, the world's largest manufacturer of reproduction parts for classic Mustangs. Bacon works as a parts distributor.
To enter his world is to blend a single, profound day 72 years ago with a 21st century zeal for the iconic Mustang. John Bacon lives, ironically enough, on John Street just off Waterloo Road west of Highway 99. It is the same blue clapboard, white trim house his parents bought in 1954.
His garage is a metal-frame building that serves as an automotive parts store, patriotic shrine, TV center and rugged man cave. Bacon can be found inside there on the coldest and hottest of days.
"You can set your watch for 3 p.m.," said good friend Carl Leon Brand of Stockton. "He'll be there, drinking vodka (with 7 Up) and smoking a cigar. He is a legend, no doubt about it. He's known around town as the Mustang Parts Guy. He's got more Mustang parts in that garage than Carter has pills.
"He also brings a lot of laughs to people."
Brand and his wife, Debbie Ann, have informally "adopted" Bacon. Or is it the other way around? They've known each other for 25 years and spend holidays and weekend swap meet outings together. Bacon affectionately calls Brand, who is a quarter of a century younger, his "daddy."
Time has not dimmed Bacon's precise memories of Pearl Harbor, but it has given him perspective. He does not understand the violence that permeates society today.
"You can't walk up to a guy and shoot him," he said in intense, firm tones. "It's not human. It's crazy, just like Hitler. I'd love to see the world like it was before Pearl Harbor. You don't realize how good it was until ..."
Bacon will be a robust 90 on Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln's birthday. He has given his share of speeches, marched in plenty of military parades and been active in various veterans' causes. Bacon has even outlived the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which ended its activities in 2011 because of "ages and declining health of its membership."
He does have a dream. Like so many other Stockton veterans, he hopes one day to visit Washington, D.C., and the National World War II Memorial.
In the meantime, "I will keep working with Drake until I die."
Bacon insists he is not a hero, just a guy who shot back. "I'm a person who did what he had to do at a time when he had to do it. I've had a wonderful life."