Garner resident remembers Pearl Harbor
Posted December 6, 2011
Updated December 7, 2011
Garner, N.C. — Garner resident Leon Howell was stationed at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago on that fateful day of Dec. 7, 1941, that propelled the U.S. into World War II.
The 89-year-old Selma native joined the Navy right after graduating from Selma High School. He was assigned to the USS Vega. The naval cargo ship pulled into Pearl Harbor one day before the Japanese attacked.
"What I remember most at Pearl Harbor is all them planes up there, and then you can see the bombs are dropping," Howell said. "We were sitting ducks."
The 19-year-old was writing a letter to his parents when a call went out over the intercom.
"Captain says, 'Man your station. Man your gun. This is not a drill. This is a real thing. We're being bombed by the country of Japan,'" Howell said. "Boy, we had to go into action right away."
He and his fellow crew members manned their stations throughout that day and night. "We were firing at them (Japanese planes). And we got one," he said.
A ship behind him blew up, but the USS Vega, which was loaded with dynamite, was luckily untouched. Families honor veterans 2011
"If they hit us, with the dynamite on the ship, we'd be blown sky high," he said.
Howell served on the USS Vega for two years during WWII, then transferred to an engineering instruction center in Miami. He was discharged on Dec. 19, 1946.
Howell said he often thinks of the young men who didn't make it home.
"I think about it every once in awhile, and I say, 'Where did 70 years go?' It doesn't seem like it. It really doesn't," he said.
Howell teared up when recalling the homecoming ceremony he and 100 other veterans received in September when returning from a Triangle Flight of Honor trip to the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"This one girl – looked like 25, young girl with a baby in her arms – stood there and reached over two people to shake my hand. And I appreciate it. I really did," Howell said. Garner veteran remembers Pearl Harbor
That gratitude is what he appreciates most, Howell said. He has a hat and a license plate on his van that show he's a Pearl Harbor veteran, and when he's out, people will just come up to him just to say "thank you."
"I just think if you see a sailor or soldier, shake his hand. I've always said that," Howell said.
Since Pearl Harbor, Howell said he has had a good life. He worked at the Borden Company and retired in the Triangle.
Since his wife of 53 years passed away seven years ago, he has found someone new, Jean. He has a daughter, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Howell plans to go out to dinner and spend time with his family on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.