Pearl Harbor survivor Mickey Ganitch transfixed several hundred people at a recent Veterans Day event at the USS Hornet in Alameda by recounting his memories of the day that Japanese planes bombed American battleships at the naval base in Hawaii.
Ganitch, who lives in San Leandro and turned 100 on Nov. 16, said he was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania but the ship was in dry dock on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as he was preparing to play in its game against the USS Arizona for the Fleet Football Championship, which he described as the Navy’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.
In a talk with slides of historic photos that he delivered without notes, Ganitch said he at first thought a colleague was kidding when he reported that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor but he soon realized the attack was real.
Ganitch, who grew up in a small farming town in Ohio, said he was still in his football gear when he went up to his battle station at the crow’s nest 100 feet above the Pennsylvania’s main deck.
Ganitch said a Japanese bomb missed him by about 45 feet, which he said was “kind of scary,” but the Arizona wasn’t as fortunate, as it was bombed by two planes and ultimately exploded and sank, with 1,177 officers and crewmen dead.
Ganitch said there were two waves of Japanese attacks that day but there wasn’t a third because American aircraft carriers, which the Japanese had expected to be at Pearl Harbor, were out at sea.
“If there had been a third attack it would have been a disaster” because then America’s fleet would have been completely devastated, he said. “We would have lost the war.”
The Pennsylvania was repaired after the Pearl Harbor attack and Ganitch continued to serve on the ship during important battles in the Pacific. He also served in the Korean War.
He said a sad memory is that a Japanese bomber fired a torpedo at the ship several days before Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, killing 20 of the 26 people on the ship.
Ganitch said he continued to serve with the U.S. Navy until 1962 and then became a recruiting officer. He still volunteers at the Oakland Veterans’ Memorial Building.
After Ganitch finished speaking, the people at the event, including California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who was another speaker, sang “Happy Birthday” in an early birthday tribute to Ganitch.