On the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the event exists in black and white photos and newsreel coverage for everyone except the few veterans who were there.
Men such as Dewey Jay and William Bonelli, both of Oklahoma City, remember Pearl Harbor in living color. They saw the black smoke billowing from the ships lost. The smell of burning oil remains fresh in their noses. And you don't forget being shot at, they said.
Jay, 91, was in the Army stationed at Schofield Barracks on Dec. 7, 1941. Bonelli, 91, was in the Army Air Corps stationed at Hickham Field.
Both men were eating breakfast when the attack began shortly before 8 a.m.
“I heard something, and I looked out the window and saw a fighter plane come through strafing,” Jay said.
No time for fear
Jay had to cross an open field to get to his unit, which was tasked with occupying the beaches around Pearl Harbor in case an enemy invasion force tried to land on the island.
He knew crossing the field would leave him vulnerable to strafing Japanese planes, but he said he didn't have time to be afraid. His only thought was reaching his unit and doing the job for which he was trained.
It took Jay's unit about 30 minutes to move out and head toward the beaches they were assigned to protect.
“We went right by Pearl Harbor,” Jay said. “It was nothing but black smoke and flames.”
Bonelli twice dodged machine-gun fire from Japanese planes. He watched as men near him were hit.
“I was lucky,” Bonelli said. “There were so many who didn't even know what hit them.”
As Dec. 7 approaches each year, both Jay and Bonelli said their thoughts always turn to those who were killed that day — 2,402 Americans.
“It still hurts,” Bonelli said, fighting back tears. “It was so damned unnecessary.”
Jay visited Pearl Harbor about 30 years ago and saw the memorials and the cemetery where many of those who died that day were buried.
“It's no fun getting shot at,” Jay said.
“It's worse losing 2,000 of your fellow troops,” he said.
As the veterans of World War II get older, it will be left to history to remember the battles they fought.
Bonelli said he hopes people will continue to remember those who sacrificed that day and through the rest of the war to protect the United States. He never misses the city's annual Pearl Harbor ceremony held at the anchor of the USS Oklahoma City at NW 13 and Broadway.
“I want to pay my respects for those who didn't have a chance,” Bonelli said. “I'm 91, and I'm still fighting dying battles.”
We went right by Pearl Harbor. It was nothing but black smoke and flames.”
Jay, 91, was in the Army stationed at Schofield Barracks on Dec. 7, 1941