Pearl Harbor: Survivor stories 70 years later

10:51 PM, Dec 7, 2011   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

St. Louis (KSDK) - Those who believe you can't go back in time have never met Elmer Luckett or Hank Metzler. A few hours with them is like a portal to our past.

Living into your 90's means you've had to make it through a lot and in the cases of Luckett and Metzler, that includes the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"There was a lot of shock, disbelief and then fear," said Luckett.

Luckett signed up for the Navy when he was 20-years-old. Having never traveled further than Chicago, the St. Louisan couldn't believe his luck when he learned he was assigned to a ship in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

"And boy it looked beautiful. These islands and with the clouds hanging down at the top of the mountains. Well, it was like a paradise," recalled Luckett.

"Hawaii was quiet, beautiful and really nice," remembered Metzler.

Metzler, also a St. Louisan, was 21 when he joined the Army. A member of the 65th Engineer Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division, he finished boot camp on Dec. 6, 1941. On the morning of Dec. 7th, he was having breakfast when he saw the first Japanese fighter plane of the surprise attack.

"We were right next to Wheeler Field," he explained. "And of course they were trying to knock that field out first."

Not far away, on board the U.S.S. Chew, a moored destroyer, Luckett and a friend saw smoke coming from Ford Island in the middle of the harbor.

"Just about the time we got the words out about Ford Island, the planes start coming in dive bombers, torpedo bombers," said Luckett. "You could see the torpedo planes. They were almost on top of the water."

In the first wave, Japan launched 183 aircraft and then engaged 167 more in the second wave. Their main target: seven battleships on battleship row

"And the last thing I saw before I heard general quarters and had to go to the engine room was the Arizona go up," said Luckett. "And that was, well just a tremendous explosion."

"One of the first things I did was go down to the armory and get a load of TNT," recalled Metzler.

His very first combat assignment was to take a truck full of explosives that would be used to destroy key roads and bridges if the Japanese invaded the island.

"So I stayed with that truck three days and three nights," he said.

"I thought to myself, you know I'm here on this ship, God, I'm putting it in your hands," said Luckett.

By the time the attack was over, 21 American ships were either sunk or damaged, more than 180 US aircraft destroyed, and more than 2,400 Americans were dead. Seventy years have passed and it's still not easy to talk about.

"Most of the time I prefer to think of more pleasant things," said Luckett.

Metzler spent the next four years fighting in the Pacific on assignments from Guadalcanal to New Zealand. He was wounded by a grenade in the Philippines in 1945 but he wears those scars with the same pride he hangs his medals.

The U.S.S. Chew survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and Elmer Luckett and his shipmates were credited with shooting down an enemy plane, hitting two more, and later making depth charge attacks on eight Japanese submarines.

History is best learned not in books but when you turn the pages of memories from men like Metzler and Luckett. The surprise attack was the beginning of World War II for the United States and the beginning of the end for Japan's aggression.

"Yeah, I'm proud of that," said Metzler.

"You had a job to do and you did it, Mike," said Luckett. "So as they say, I'm proud to be American."

An attack we will never forget and the men we should always remember. Reluctant heroes are still heroes.


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