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Pearl Harbor Vets Recall Attack’s Surprise, Fury

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, Dec. 11, 2016 — Wiping away tears, attack survivors and other World War II veterans last week paid tribute here to their fallen brothers-in-arms and the civilians killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise Japanese assault that launched the United States into World War II.

Retired Navy fighter pilot Bob Batterson of Corpus Christi, Texas, who was then a petty officer third class, remembers being awoken in the enlisted barracks on Pearl Harbor to the sounds of Japanese torpedo planes.

Batterson said he and his shipmates realized the gravity of the situation when they recognized the Japanese emblem on the planes, a red circle.

'How in the Heck Could They Surprise Us?'

"We thought it was a drill until we saw ... [the] big red meatball and a huge torpedo under each one," he said.

Batterson, who left a cruiser seven months before the attack, was astounded that such an event could happen, considering the precautions the Navy took.

"We had darkened ship, no movies at night, [and] exercises all the time ... and we're stripping ships ... so that the gun crews wouldn’t be hazarded when a bomb or shell hit," Batterson said in an interview after arriving in Honolulu on an honor flight, Dec. 3.

"So, I thought we were ready for war," he said, adding, "All I could say was, 'How in the heck could they surprise us?'”

'Meatball! Meatball!'

In his first time back since the attack, Milton Mapou, who was on the USS Detroit when Pearl Harbor was attacked, said he was glad to be able to return to the island to pay tribute to the fallen and visit shipmates.

"Last time I was here in Hawaii, it was 1945 and I was in a body cast from my chest all the way down," he said, explaining he was injured in Okinawa in a kamikaze attack.

His ship was among the few ships that were out at sea during the attack, Mapou said, sharing his story in an interview at a gala for Pearl Harbor survivors in Honolulu, Dec. 6.

"I was below decks when it happened,” he said, “and I come up topside and I [saw] the plane coming in and I start yelling, 'Meatball! Meatball!' ... and at that time he dropped a torpedo -- went right across our bow into Ford Island."

The visit back to the sites of the attack is poignant, Mapou said, as recollections of that day start flooding back. It was a powerful experience to visit the USS Arizona, which honors the 1,177 sailors and Marines on that battleship -- most of the crew -- killed that day.

"I had a lot of memories today and yesterday, especially going over to the Arizona, a lot of memories there," Mapou said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)