DFW AIRPORT (CBSDFW.COM) – In December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt dubbed December 7th as the “day that will live in infamy.”
Now, there are a dwindling number of survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to tell their story. But Friday a group of four veterans, draped in vests bearing their former unit badges and shirts with American flags, gathered at a gate in DFW Airport to board a flight to Hawaii.
The group of veterans is making a pilgrimage to where they saw history unfold 69 years ago: Pearl Harbor.
Frank Curre was on the battleship USS Tennessee. “During the attack I was either Seaman First or Seaman Second,” Curre said about his lowly rank at the time. “We were young recruits back then.”
Pat Duncan was a Quartermaster aboard the cruiser USS Raleigh. The morning of December 7, 1941, Duncan was on deck with his bugle waiting to play colors while raising the flag to start the day on the ship.
“We saw this plane coming in low toward us,” Duncan recalled . “We thought, ‘That sure is unusual.’ then we saw him drop the torpedo that hit us.”
Duncan said no one who saw the attack was alarmed at first. They’d had U.S. planes make mock practice attacks on them before. And then the torpedo slammed into the ship.
“When it hit it knocked us all down and filled my bugle with water,” Duncan said. “I couldn’t sound general quarters. We looked up to the underside of the wing and saw the insignia of the Japanese, that rising sun, on it and we knew we were in for it then. The whole harbor was full of planes dropping their bombs and torpedoes.”
Curre’s ship was moored right next to the ill-fated USS Arizona. He could see the bomb falling toward the Arizona that would destroy the ship.
“When it hit that magazine that ship went 12 to 15 feet in the air, broke in two and settled down,” Curre said. “And if you had a bag of popcorn and went out here in the breeze, that was bodies that went out all over the harbor from out of that vessel,” Curre said describing how the bodies of sailors and Marines were thrown from the explosion.
“It got so bad we didn’t think we were going to live through it,” Duncan said. “We thought we were going to get blown up like the rest of the harbor was getting blown up there.”
“It’s a memory you don’t forget,” Curre said. “We tell everybody you can forget a lot of things. But that’s tattooed on your soul.”
Curre said he and other survivors of the attack are haunted by nightmares to this day. Now they’re returning to Pearl Harbor to pay homage to the fallen, and to remind themselves that their comrades’ sacrifices were not in vain.
“All of us are going back to pay respect to the ones who didn’t come back,” Duncan said.
“We as individuals are not heroes,” Curre said. “The heroes are underneath them white crosses all over this world and on the bottom of that ocean floor.”