Descent into Darkness: The Divers of Pearl Harbor

May 09, 2018

To get a true sense of the amount of damage done when Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, it’s best to rely on the recollections of those who lived through it. They may have been caught up in the chaos of the events as they unfolded, but many of their accounts are visceral, and paint a picture that no dry history textbook could ever match.

A Salvage Diver's Tale

Cdr. Edward C. Raymer, 1944

Cdr. Edward C. Raymer, 1944

In 1996, retired navy diver Commander Edward C. Raymer brought a different aspect of the Pearl Harbor attack to print, one that came in the hours and days after the horrific attack. With the ships still burning, and the tragic scene of bodies floating in the oil-slicked harbor, men like Raymer were called in to do what seemed like the impossible at the time: clean up the harbor and attempt to rescue any survivors who were trapped in their ships. In the wake of the devastating attack, 2,403 Americans were dead, and Raymer and other Navy salvage divers were responsible for collecting remains from within the sunken ships. In his written account of the horrors after the Pearl Harbor attack, Raymer details what it was like not just as a salvage diver in the harbor waters, but as the commander responsible for the men tasked with cutting into the sunken hulks and bringing out the remains of the men who perished on their ships.





Descent into Darkness

Descent into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941, A Navy Diver’s Memoir is Raymer’s memoir of his time at Pearl Harbor. At the time of its publication, Descent into Darkness was the only first-hand historical account of the salvage and rescue operations in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Raymer holds back none of the details of the horrific task that he and his divers had to take on, allowing the reader to visualize the chaotic conditions of Pearl Harbor immediately after the attack.

Raymer vividly details the entire operation, including the risks they had to take using previously untested techniques that could have been deadly to the divers. His account of the rescue operation takes readers into the bellies of the sunken battleships USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma. Divers entered pitch black waters where they couldn’t see much beyond the front of their helmets in search of potential survivors who may have found a pocket of air. To navigate the dark and murky waters that filled each vessel, Raymer and his crew had to memorize the blueprints of each ship, and guided themselves by feeling around the interior of the ships.

Descent into Darkness tells of the heartbreaking and nearly impossible work of the salvage divers of Pearl Harbor, men who literally had to swim through the aftermath of the December 7, 1941 attack. Told through Raymer’s experiences, the 1996 memoir tells of some of the unsung heroes of Pearl Harbor while providing readers with an inside look at one of the nation’s most devastating historical events.

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