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Living History

When Ralph Evans couldn't find work, he decided to join the Marines. Little did he know his choice would lead him to a day that burned itself into the minds of every American.

Evans eventually ended up on the USS West Virginia, sailing to Pearl Harbor. The 18-year-old Marine wrote letters to his parents saying that something was coming; there was too much military activity.

At the same time, 17-year-old William C. Lyon boarded the USS Detroit on his way to the same island.

"We was at sea and all the sudden, we went to what we call condition two," Lyon said. "(Condition two is when) they're expecting something to happen, but not sure what it is . . . I just wondered, 'Why?'"

Those thoughts never crossed the mind of 18-year-old George Hauk, a sailor aboard the USS California. The men on the his vessel began taking their battle stations two days before arriving at Pearl Harbor.

All three men remember vividly the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. At 7:55 a.m, Lyon was eating a ham steak for breakfast at a submarine base, Evans was on cabin security guard duty aboard the USS West Virginia and Hauk was serving watch duty on the USS California.

Lyon never finished his steak.

"We felt the ship launch and bump, and we didn't know it, but each one was a torpedo," Evans recalled. "We were hit with six torpedoes."

He ran outside just in time to see the USS Arizona blow up only 50 to 60 feet away.

The blast blew Evans to the ground. The next thing he knew, machine gun bullets were splintering the deck around him.

Meanwhile, Lyon thought the attack was a drill for the submarine base, until he looked up to see 40 Japanese torpedo planes whisk by.

"When the Arizona blew up, of course you could hear that thing for miles and miles away," he said. "There was planes everywhere you looked."

A nearby officer told Lyon to stand guard in front of the administration building. Throughout the attack, he stood there and watched.

"It looked like every ship in the navy had been sunk," Lyon remembered.

Back on the deck of the USS West Virginia, Evans noticed the burning oil from the USS Arizona surrounding his ship. Evans stripped down to his underwear and dove into the water and swam under the fiery oil to a nearby whaleboat, which took him to shore. There he ran to a bomb shelter and met up with five other sailors and Marines. Together, they ran up to the Marine Corps barracks for ammunition.

Hauk managed to escape the fiery fate of many who lost their lives trying to swim to safety from the sinking USS California. He stood upon the ship's pier, trying to hitch a ride with one of the nearby whaleboats, when he noticed the skin falling off his legs. The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital bed.

Hauk still doesn't know how he escaped.

Two hours later, the attack was over. Only then could the three men begin to realize the magnitude of what happened. All together, 354 Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. The Japanese sunk or severely damaged 18 warships. Two thousand four hundred eight Americans died that day.

"We wanted to kill the enemy because the enemy had killed friends and done terrible things to us," Evans said.

He remembers pulling hundreds of body parts out of the water ­ legs, arms, torsos. Hauk remembers waking in the hospital bed and wanting nothing but revenge.

Somehow, perhaps only by the grace of God, Lyon, Evans and Hauk survived Dec. 7. 1941.

Contact the reporter at slopatin@prescottaz.com

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