On this, the 77th anniversary of one of the United States' most terrible days, we remember Pearl Harbor and the men and women who lost their lives there.
Orangeburg was well represented on that memorable day, Dec. 7, 1941. Orangeburg native the late Adm. Gelzer Sims (1903-1965) and his wife, Sue Spahr Sims (1903-1988, were right in the middle of it.
"As we watched it seemed like a movie, though we were not involved ... just like looking on at something that happens to somebody else," Sue Spahr Sims told The Times and Democrat in 1966.
Mrs. Sims was with her two children at Pearl Harbor, where her husband had been stationed for a little over two years. Just the day before, then-Lt. Commander Sims had returned from a routine cruise.
Mrs. Sims was upset when she learned he would have ready duty the following day. He and his full ship company would be aboard the ship and ready to go for any emergency for a full 24-hour period. It also meant that she would not see her husband until Monday night.
On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, Mrs. Sims and her daughter, Georgia Ann, 13 at the time, drove Commander Sims down to Pearl Harbor where the destroyers were anchored. As she left the area, she noticed a lot of commotion and heard planes. She was wondering what planes could they be.
Her husband had not mentioned any maneuvers. She drove up to Red Hill, directly over an area where the battleships anchored. They sat in their car and watched the planes but still did not understand fully what was going on until the attacking planes rolled around to return to the area and passed directly over her head and she saw the Japanese insignia.
"We watched the attacks on the battleships," she said in the 1966 interview. "It seemed impossible that those formidable ships could be so damaged. It was unbelievable as I watched with tears streaming down my face."
She said her daughter was very upset at watching the attack. Sims decided they better head for home. The planes were gone and she hoped they could make it. The family lived in Honolulu, quite some distance from Pearl Harbor.
Sims and her daughter arrived at their home and found her son, Gelzer Jr., who was 11, and their maid beside themselves with worry.
Sims was worried about her husband. She hoped that he and his ship had left the harbor. Several days later someone told her that his ship was safe.
In the meantime, Commander Sims was equally worried about his family, and it wasn't until a week later when he came into port for about two hours that he knew how they had fared. One thing that made an impression on Mrs. Sims was her husband bringing home all his valuables -- his class ring, pictures and so forth.
"He was getting ready for war," she recalled.
Commander Sims told her to take the children home to Orangeburg as soon as she could. "But I wasn't about to do that ... I stayed until about May. I worked with Navy Relief working with people who had lost loved ones," she said.
In her home Mrs. Sims took in eight wives who were in need of shelter. They brought nothing but their personal belongings, she said. One room was completely blacked out and it was the center of their social life, she recalled.
Sims said trying to find decent food posed a small crisis while waiting for her husband to come into port. She said she was fortunate in knowing the officer who was in charge of sending dependents back home.
"I told him I wanted to stay and see Gelzer once more. Every time my name came to the top of the list, he would put it back to the end once more."
The first of May arrived and Commander Sims arrived back at Pearl. The first thing he did was call a neighbor and ask if his wife and children were all right. Mrs. Sims and the children had given up the house when the lease ran out and moved into an apartment hotel. Her husband had come back to Pearl Harbor to pick up a new ship, the USS Mauri. One of his first actions was to see his family headed off for home, which came 10 days later. Commander Sims, who shortly after became Capt. Sims, stayed for the duration.
During those years, Mrs. Sims saw her husband only twice. He was offered shore duty in Washington but refused it. He felt he should be at sea because that was what he was trained for. She quoted her husband as saying, "The boys out there need all the trained leadership they can get." He felt that his place was with his men, she said.
Admiral Sims was only 44 years of age when he retired. He received two Silver Stars, three Bronze Medals and a Presidential Unit Citation as well as the Navy Cross.
Asked how she felt about the years in the service and especially the war years, Mrs. Sims said. "The years were wonderful. It renewed my faith in people to see how they reacted in situations like that. People took the whole thing right in stride. People were generally just wonderful. They may have had a feeling of fear but they kept on going.”
The Simses represented the many South Carolinians who were in harm's way on Dec. 7, 1941, and after. The memory of their bravery, and the heroism and sacrifice of so many others, lives on. We must not forget them.