Below decks on the USS Tennessee, Art Gruber couldn't see the Japanese planes flying overhead, but there was no mistaking what was going on when bombs started exploding.
Moored 70 years ago on Battleship Row during the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Tennessee was next to the USS Arizona, which exploded when a bomb detonated the ship's magazine. Gruber, 88, of Norman, said the force of the explosion from the Arizona was massive.
“I thought we had run aground,” Gruber said. “The shock wave bent all the metal bulkheads on our ship.”
Gruber was one of three Pearl Harbor veterans who Wednesday attended the city's annual Pearl Harbor ceremony, at NW 13 and Broadway in front of the salvaged anchor of the USS Oklahoma, another battleship that capsized Dec. 7, 1941, after being hit by multiple Japanese torpedoes.
The ceremony was hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The USS Tennessee was damaged in the attack but was repaired and re-entered the war two months later. The Oklahoma and Arizona weren't so lucky. About 2,400 members of America's military died in the attack.
Gruber's daughter, Cindy Standridge, of Lindsay, said her family never misses the ceremony at the USS Oklahoma anchor.
“We've been here every year since 1985,” Standridge said.
“I'm very proud of my father and his service. He was there to experience one of the most terrible tragedies of the war.”
William Bonelli, 90, of Oklahoma City, also is a regular at the ceremony. Bonelli, serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps, was stationed at Hickam Field during the attack. He was walking to a mess hall when he and a friend saw three planes fly overhead.
‘We may be at war'
“I knew they weren't ours. I jokingly said to my buddy, ‘We may be at war,'
Bonelli was almost hit twice by Japanese Zero fighters strafing the island.
“I had quite a bit of luck that day,” Bonelli said. “This may sound odd, but Pearl Harbor prepared me well for what was to come.”
Bonelli eventually got his pilot's wings and flew 27 missions over Europe in a B-17 Flying Fortress.
Despite being shot at that day, Bonelli said he doesn't harbor any anger toward the Japanese seven decades later. Gruber echoed that thought.
Pearl Harbor is often compared to the 9/11 attacks, and Bonelli and Gruber said it is hard to overestimate the hatred the country felt toward Japan after the attack. But time has given survivors a different perspective.
“I don't have any ill feelings about the Japanese,” Gruber said. “It's about the history of the day and remembering what we all did.”