PEARCY, Ark. – Eight decades after the events of Pearl Harbor, the images of that day are ingrained in America’s memory.
But for those who were there, it’s more than just pictures and film – but a moment they will never forget.
97-year-old William Chase remembers the events of December 7th, 1941, like it was yesterday. He recalls the morning shift, getting ready for the day at Hospital Point and hearing aircraft training exercises overhead.
“We had just got up and ate breakfast and cleaned the galley,” Chase remembers. “It was in the hospital.”
Chase was just 17 on that day and had gotten used to hearing planes practice maneuvers and dive bombs in the early morning hours. But on that day, he remembers the planes sounded different. And then they got the news.
“All at once, a nurse came in,” Chase said, “and told them that it was the real thing.”
After being taken to a safer location, Chase and his team were sent to work, boarding small boats that brought them into the harbor where they pulled men out of the shallow water, both dead and alive. All-day, they went up and down Battleship Row, watching the horror unfold as the total destruction was revealed.
“Fuel was running right out of the ships and burning. If you jump off the ship, you jump right into the fire,” Chase remembered. “The ones that came out were just lucky.”
It was heartbreaking work, all just yards away from the USS Arizona, which held the heaviest loss of life. Chase has since visited where it all happened, years later and with the battleships either gone or left as a memorial to the fallen.
Chase’s service didn’t end with Pearl Habor, though; he was stationed on the USS Kaula and traveled back and forth to islands across the Pacific, including Midway where he spent time rebuilding after it’s 1942 attack.
For Chase, he says he hopes generations to come remember Pearl Harbor and take away an important message – your life can change in an instant.
“They need to know how quick things can change for them,” he said.