Pearl Harbor survivor recounts harrowing attack, 80 years later: 'Something I'll never forget'

Pearl Harbor survivor sends message to younger Americans

. Fox News correspondent William La Jeunesse reports on veteran Jack Holder’s push for awareness

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – Eighty years ago, most Americans had never heard of Pearl Harbor, let alone were able to find it on a map. Yet the attack on an island 2,500 miles from the mainland came to define the ‘Greatest Generation’ and America itself, which avenged the attack just four months later, bombing Tokyo, and, shortly after, winning a decisive naval victory at Midway.

One man who witnessed both was 19-year-old Texas farm boy Jack Holder. On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Holder had just finished morning roll call inside a hangar on Ford Island when his squadron heard planes approaching, assuming they were American, until the first explosion. 

“We ran outside and seen all the aircraft in with Rising Sun insignia and that explained it all,” said Holder. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s something I’ll never forget.” 

Sailors standing among wrecked airplanes at Ford Island Naval Air Station as they watch the explosion of the USS Shaw in the background, during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. 
(AP Photo/U.S. Navy, File)

Holder recalls seeing a wave of Japanese planes descend on battleship row, raining down bombs and bullets.  

Exposed on the tarmac, his squadron sought cover in a sewer ditch.  

“One of their pilots had seen us and staffed the ditch with machine-gun fire missing us by 3 feet,” he said.

Holder will be among 150 World War II vets, including 20 Pearl Harbor survivors, expected to attend Tuesday’s 80th commemoration ceremony in Hawaii. For many it will be a bittersweet reunion, arriving with suitcases full of memories of youth and friends lost.

Holder received many awards for his service.
(Jack Holder)

“I’d seen seamen jumping in the water covered with oil that was on fire,” and most of them died in the water, he said.

 To honor those who died and remember their sacrifice, Holder shares his story several times each year with high school students. Last month we joined him on a visit to Highland High in Gilbert, Ariz.

“We learn so much in history, but it’s a completely different feeling having someone actually talk to you about it and tell you their own personal stories,” said student Audra Lockheed, following Holder’s 90-minute presentation.

“It definitely made me feel kind of like a pride for our country,” added student Casey Moss. 

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941.
(AP Photo, File)

For many attending Tuesday ceremonies on Oahu, the trip brings them full circle. Anyone who enlisted after the attack, would be at least 98 years old. Holder turns 100 next week.

 In his presentation, Holder makes note of how the attack transformed the U.S. from a largely isolationist country protected by two oceans, to a global superpower. By the end of the war, 12% of the U.S. population had served in the armed forces. That shared common purpose is something he wants today’s generation to appreciate. His advice:

“They need to stay in school. And remember two things: treasure the flag and remember that they live in the greatest country in the world.”

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