LA GRANGE, N.C. (WNCT) — In the 1930s, a young man from La Grange enlisted in the United States Navy and was soon deployed to Hawaii.
The now 97-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor said his life changed forever on that fateful day in December.
“It sounded like there was an explosion, but we didn’t really think much of it until we came up to what we call “topside,” which was the main deck of the destroyer, one deck up,” said “We looked toward Ford Island — a hanger on Ford Island was on fire.”
J.L. Wilson was only 22 years old on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor. Wilson was serving on the USS Dale that morning and saw many of his comrades die, including a direct strike to the USS Arizona.
“I saw those men blown off the stern of the Arizona,” said Wilson “The next thing I saw was sailors floating in the water. Now, that really got next to me.”
More than 2,400 men died that day and thousands more over the course of the war the attack launched the United States into. Wilson continued to serve in World War II where he was later assigned to the USS Whitehurst. There, he found a North Carolina tie that he traced decades later.
“The ship was named for a man from New Bern,” said Wilson. “Whitehurst. Years later, when I was out of the service, I happened to think about Whitehurst. I thought to myself, ‘I’ll stop and see.’ It was much later on, years later, if anybody knew anything about him. I hate to tell you, nobody in New Bern knew who I was talking about.”
Wilson says stories like that are why he believes sharing his memories of service is important. He hopes others will work to remember the men lost at Pearl Harbor and during World War II long after those veterans are gone.
Wilson says he used to attend World War II reunions, but those have stopped as the number of living veterans from the war has decreased drastically.
He hopes others will continue to share their stories, so they are not forgotten.