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Pearl Harbor survivor remembers

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michael Boquette
On Dec. 7, 1941, Richard Fiske started his day aboard the USS West Virginia, much like any other. But just before 8 a.m., the 19-year-old Marine bugler looked up from his watch post on the ship's quarterdeck to see Japanese planes overhead.

"At first I thought they were our planes, then the first torpedo hit our ship," Mr. Fiske said.

Almost two hours after the attack began, the West Virginia had taken hits from eight more torpedoes and two bombs. Luckily for the surviving crew members, the two bombs didn't explode. Crew members scrambled from one blaze to the next hoping to extinguish the fires. When they were ordered to abandon ship, a terrified Fiske swam 40 yards to Ford Island.

He continued to serve as one of 37 members of the 5th Marine Division, 13th Marines at Imo Jima. After being one of six unit survivors of the World War II battle, he opted for a change of pace. In 1948 Fiske traded his bugle for a wrench when he enlisted in the infant Air Force as a crew chief.

"I figured I'd go somewhere where I didn't get shot at," Mr. Fiske said. He retired in 1969 as a master sergeant after ushering in the KC-135 Stratotanker and sitting on the flightline in Puerto Rico during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Today, 60 years after the Pearl Harbor attack, he's a goodwill ambassador at the USS Arizona Memorial -- ironic since the USS West Virginia was just 50 feet from the Arizona when it was hit. He's volunteered at the visitor center for almost 20 years.

Once a month, he places two roses, donated by the Japanese pilot who bombed his ship, in front of the names of those killed in the attack. Then he solemnly raises his bugle -- complete with the same mouthpiece he used on that infamous day in December so long ago -- to play "Taps."

Note: This article reprinted from Airman magazine, December 2001.