December 7, 1941 was one of the darkest days in American history.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that morning catapulted the U.S. into World War II. The 79th anniversary of that attack was commemorated Monday with a ceremony aboard the USS Lexington.
Corpus Christ resident Bob Batterson was there, both Monday and in 1941.
“What was it? It was one hell of a surprise,” said Batterson, 99.
That morning started like any other Sunday at Pearl Harbor for Batterson. That quiet morning however, was soon replaced with the sounds of battle.
“We thought it was a drill,” said Batterson, who was sleeping in the enlisted barracks with about 20 other sailors. “We were using appropriate words for that sort of thing on a Sunday morning, and somebody said “that’s a Jap!” The Jap torpedo planes hit us on battleship row and we knew we were at war.”
Batterson spent most of the day fighting fires on the burning ships. Like most, his morale was low.
He’d eventually earn his wings and was assigned to the USS Bennington, sister ship of the second carrier named USS Lexington, which is today docked in Corpus Christi Bay.
“When I volunteer on the Lexington it’s like going aboard my old combat ship,” said Batterson.
He’s volunteered aboard the Lexington for nearly 30 years. As a volunteer, Batterson is always quick to share a story of what it was like serving in the Pacific.
“Every time I go aboard for duty I think about that and it really has gotten me very very close to that ship,” said Batterson.
79 years later, Batterson says he no longer has ill-feelings for the Japanese, and knows his generation is nearly gone. He’s confident, however, that their stories will live on aboard the Blue Ghost.
“She’s a real battle-scarred veteran that everybody in Corpus Christi should be proud of and try to come aboard as often as possible,” said Batterson.
While Batterson wasn’t the only World War II veteran at Monday’s ceremony, he was the only Pearl Harbor survivor. Two other local survivors passed away in the last year, possibly making Batterson the last in the Coastal Bend.