ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – It has been 75 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. More than 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed in the surprise attack. Across the country, observances were held Wednesday to honor the lives lost, as well as the survivors.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. naval fleet came under attack at Pearl Harbor, leading the nation’s entry into World War II.
A gun salute was held Wednesday outside the Fleet Reserve Association Branch in Atlantic Beach to honor the 2,403 servicemen who died in the attack.
Robert Beaudreau was recognized during the ceremony that was held with dozens of veterans and community members.
Beaudreau may be 97-years old, but he remembers Pearl Harbor like it was yesterday. He was a part of the aviation fleet aboard the battleship USS West Virginia when the first alarm sounded.
"Prior to the attack, it was a bright sunny day, and I was getting ready to go to church services," Beaudreau said.
That's when he saw the Japanese fighter planes and bombers swoop in.
"I just reached the second deck when the first torpedo hit just below me," Beaudreau said. "We didn't have time to be scared."
Beaudreau quickly made his way to the upper deck with the captain.
"His last command before he died was to abandon the ship," Beaudreau said.
Moments later the USS Arizona, docked next to him, was bombed and blew up.
"All that black smoke from the Arizona poured over the West Virginia, and we could hardly see your hand in front of your face," Beaudreau said.
He had to act quickly as the West Virginia was tied with the USS Tennessee.
"I decided to crawl the lines, hand over hand, to the Tennessee, and that's how I got off the ship," Beaudreau said.
The Japanese surprise attack destroyed more than half of the U.S. Pacific fleet. After being hit by seven torpedoes, the West Virginia sunk and became one of eight battleships damaged.
"I'm no hero. I didn't do any heroic things. I just happened to be aboard the ship that got torpedoed,” Beaudreau said. “I was lucky to survive the attack."
Beaudreau said he hopes the memory of the lives lost at Pearl Harbor is never forgotten.