One of Cleveland's Greatest Heroes: 25th Infantryman and Pearl Harbor Survivor
John Seelie was one of this country’s final Pearl Harbor survivors. A man of pure dedication to faith, family, and country, his experiences provide us with a glimpse of our country every day- willingly placing themselves in the path of danger and uncertainty.
John Seelie was born on November 25, 1922. When he was only 18 years old, Seelie decided to enlist in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Hayes in Columbus, OH. Only a year later, Seelie was transferred to Schonfield Barracks Oahu with the 65th Combat Engineers, 25th Infantry Division, with the mission to protect Wheeler Field, a U.S. air base. According to Seelie’s public Facebook page, his captain decided on this transfer by the flip of a coin. Seelie and another soldier were transferred to Hawaii, whereas two other soldiers were transferred to the Philippines. While this may at first seem like a rather unlucky test of fate for Seelie, the two soldiers that were sent to the Philippines did not survive.
That is not to say that Seelie’s time in Hawaii was without its own tragedy. On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Seelie was just waking up when he recalled seeing the first of the Japanese planes. In a 2009 interview, Seelie tells of his experience firsthand:
“We grabbed our M-1 rifles and our redesigned steel helmets we had just been issued, a couple of .30 caliber machine guns, and ran outside. We had no ammunition because it was all locked up to keep it away from saboteurs. We asked the sergeant to open the ammunition room, but he had no orders to do that. So, we broke the door down to get to the ammo. We started firing at the planes. Whether we knocked an enemy plane down, nobody knows.”
Seelie was one of the lucky survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack and paid constant tribute to those who had fallen by attending yearly memorial services and recounting his experiences to all who would listen.