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East Texan stationed in Pearl Harbor 70 years ago recalls day 'all hell broke loose'

By Angela Ward award@news-journal.com
Dec. 6, 2011 at 11 p.m.


Nowadays, Bill Terry is a grandfather and great-grandfather, living a quiet life in White Oak.

Seventy years ago, he was a teenage sailor in the U.S. Navy caught up in one of the most momentous events in the 20th century: the Japanese attack on Hawaii's Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Terry was a gunner's mate on the USS Reid, a destroyer docked at Pearl Harbor. He was awoken that long-ago Sunday morning by several of his shipmates trying to figure out what was going on above deck.

"It was completely unexpected," Terry said. "We came up out of the hatch, and all hell broke loose."

Terry went to his station and began firing at the enemy aircraft - something he'd practiced many times but had never done until that day.

"We didn't stay in the harbor long," he said. "Our ship was out and patrolling the islands within a few hours of the attack."

The events of Pearl Harbor might have been harder on his family back home in Texas than they were on him, Terry said. They knew he was stationed there, but it was several months before he was able to contact them and reassure them that he hadn't been killed or injured in the attack.

"I'd joined the Navy the year before, because I didn't like the life of a farmer," Terry said. "I was a typical teenager, didn't pay a lot of attention to world politics, so the war caught me by surprise."

There were actually two attacks, he said, but they came so close together that it seemed like one long, continuous assault.

"We just did what we'd been trained to do," Terry said. "It was more or less automatic behavior for us."

Terry spent six years in the Navy and, although the USS Reid suffered no damage during the attack at Pearl Harbor, it was sunk by a Japanese kamikaze attack near Surigao Straits in December 1944.

"I ended up jumping off the ship as it was sinking," Terry said. "A lot of my friends didn't make it, but those of us who did held regular reunions up until a few years ago."

There aren't many survivors of Pearl Harbor left, and many of those who are still alive are in too fragile a state of health to travel, he said.

"I liked being in the Navy," Terry said. "I would have joined even I'd known Pearl Harbor would be bombed while I was stationed there. I really think everybody should join some branch of the service for a few years."

Terry spent most of his post-Navy years working for Exxon. He and his wife, Marlena, have eight children and 17 grandchildren between them; it is a second marriage for both.

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