Upon running outside after feeling the effects of bombs hitting barracks, 19-year-old Bob Cowles saw images he would never forget.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service executed a surprise military strike on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Honolulu.
Barely blinking, Cowles, a private first class at the time, began firing his rifle at the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.
“I believe I shot one down and incapacitated it to where it couldn’t make it back to their ship,” said Cowles.
When the attack concluded, Cowles said he helped survey the damage, specifically focusing on the nearby administration building.
“I commandeered a motorcycle from the Marine Corp., and I ran motorcycles from Pearl Harbor outside, where we didn’t have any communication, to trade messages back and forth,” Cowles said.
After cleaning up the ship later that day, Cowles and many other military servicemen remained on guard with one thought weighing on their minds — that the Japanese could invade at any time.
Cowles, who now lives in the Oklahoma City metro area, remembered seeing fires on the water.
“It was a disaster,” he said.
The strong swimmer, who was a part of the Navy yard patrol, also rescued many men from the water.
“I was surprised I wasn’t hurt in any way,” Cowles said.
The attack at Pearl Harbor will live on in many Americans’ memories. More than 2,300 Americans died in the attack, including civilians and about 1,000 people were injured. The attack would lead the United States to formally enter World War II.
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,000 miles from the United States mainland and approximately 4,000 miles from Japan.
All battleships in Pearl Harbor – USS Arizona, USS Okla-homa, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Mary-land, USS Pennsyl-vania, USS Tennessee and USS Nevada – suffered damage from bombs and/or torpedoes. All, except the USS Arizona and USS Utah were salvaged.