Pearl Harbor Vets Remember Attack
Posted May 23, 2001 8:05 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH — Sixty years ago, Leon Howell was writing home from the USS Vega when the suprise Japanese attack hit Pearl Harbor.
"It sounded like bees, a big hum," he says. "All the time, they were dropping one right after another."
The number of Pearl Harbor Veterans is dwindling fast. Six in North Carolina have died already this year. There are just over 160 remaining in the Tar Heel state who can share their story.
Their collective story is coming to the big screen this Friday. For Howell, who was a 19-year-old deckhand, the movie "Pearl Harbor" is about educating the younger generation.
"It brings tears to my eyes," he says. "There are so many people who don't know what happened then."
What happened killed thousands of men, something 83-year-old Douglas Eaker will never forget. As a radioman, he was onboard a salvage vessel right next to the USS Arizona.
"We pulled 100 yards away when the Arizona blew and sunk."
Eaker and his crewmembers helped rescue 14 men from the Oklahoma, but there so many they couldn't save.
Howell and Eaker, who both shot down Japanese and lived to tell about it, will go see the movie. They want it to tell a story of honor and duty about the men lost at sea.
"I lost a lot of friends," he says, his voice faltering. "I don't know, it still gets me in my heart."
Both men plan to see the movie and hope it can educate younger people. Neither can forget the most searing event of their lives.
"I think about it a whole lot. Not a day goes by I don't think about it," Howell says.
"I don't feel lucky, I felt like God was with me," says Eaker.
North Carolina has more ties to Pearl Harbor than you may think.
The USS Raleigh, a light cruiser ship, was the first boat attacked at Pearl Harbor, two minutes before the bombing on Battleship Row. During World War II, the USS North Carolina, which is now in Wilmington, guarded the Pacific and spent much of its repair time at Pearl Harbor. A free memorial service is scheduled at the USS North Carolina this Memorial Day.