Dream of Pearl Harbor / by Beth Nakamura

Ask Wallace Doble about Pearl Harbor, when he was a newly enlisted 17-year-old onboard the USS Tangier, a seaplane tender stationed in Hawaii. Or when, later in the war, an accident involving an ammunitions explosion left him mostly deaf.

He'll get to that.

But not yet.

First, he'll want to tell you about the dream.

In it, Doble is holding onto a rail, looking out onto a body of water. 

"I don't know if I was on a ship or a dock," Doble recalled. "There was an explosion in the distance, and then a plane came by," he remembers. The plane had a red circle painted on it near the tail. It was so close, Doble says, he was able to look the pilot in the eye.

"I waved at him and he didn't wave back," Doble says, "so I got to cussing him." Right after that, "I woke up."

He was 11 years old.

Fast forward six years, when Doble quit school, enlisted in the Navy, and found himself on the Tangier, a boatswain's mate, 2nd class. It was Dec. 7, 1941.

"I was standing on the deck, holding onto the rails, looking out onto the water, and that's when it happened," Doble says, his voice getting more excited with each twist and turn of the story. "It happened just like my damned dream."

A big tank, "across the bay, a few miles away," exploded before his eyes. Then a plane flew past, a Japanese flag emblazoned on its side. "I waved to the pilot and he didn't wave back, just like the dream," Doble says. "And I started cussing him out."

The rest happened fast.

"Someone opened fire," said Doble, who didn't realize quite what was happening until he noticed a shipmate, who was walking up the deck behind him, had been shot at the collar. "I didn't think it was real until I saw he got shot," he said.

Petrified, Doble thought about jumping off the side of the ship, or "going down the hatch," he said. He chose the hatch, where he hid out for the next couple of hours. The Tangier, he believes, was the first to fire back that day. Several members of the crew went on to rescue over 30 men from the nearby USS Utah, which had been hit by two torpedoes, and capsized.

Doble, who is 90, lives with his wife, June, in Eagle Creek. He spent five years in the Navy, going on to a brief stint as a merchant marine before becoming a logger. He attended USS Tangier reunions years ago but hasn't met with fellow Pearl Harbor veterans in a long time. Last he knew, there were about five shipmates left. The Tangier, which was decommissioned in 1947, had a second life with a shipping company.  It was sold for scrap in 1961..

When the weather's good, Doble likes to spend all day outside riding his push mower, or tinkering in the workshop he built several years ago. There's a pond out back, which he spent two years digging out. In it, there's a big koi collection; he feeds them when the weather's warm. Every day, a couple times a day, he puts out corn and nuts for the squirrels.

Behind the pond, over past the bridge he built, sits an old trailer he bought some years back. He no longer uses it for storage since a storm came, bringing down some trees and a piece of the trailer with it. But there's a painting he made that runs along the length of it, something he did with his son, Dan, who died this past spring. He was 60.

The painting was a big project, and took them several days to finish. It's bright blue, about the color of Doble's eyes, and glistens on a sunny day, when the shadows of backyard trees sway and shimmer on its surface.

"I don't know why I chose to paint the Tangier," Doble says. "I just did."