Memories still vivid for Pearl Harbor survivor in AZ - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Memories still vivid for Pearl Harbor survivor in AZ

(Source: CBS 5 News) Archie Kelley was aboard the USS West Virginia when Pearl Harbor was attached Dec. 7, 1941. (Source: CBS 5 News) Archie Kelley was aboard the USS West Virginia when Pearl Harbor was attached Dec. 7, 1941.

It was 71 years ago when Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, launching the United States into World War II.

The surprise assault lasted nearly two hours, and when it was all over, nearly two dozen U.S. ships were damaged or sunk, and more than 2,000 service members were killed.

There is one Valley man who survived the attacks of that infamous day, and he shared his still-vivid memories with CBS 5 News.

"Even though I can't remember someone's name I met last night, I remember every detail that happened at Pearl Harbor," said Archie Kelley, 94, who was a 23-year-old graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy when he requested assignment aboard the USS West Virginia in Oahu, HI.

He had spent a carefree summer in Oahu, and had spent the night of Dec. 6, 1941, with his uncle, Bruce, a senior watch officer on board the USS Arizona.

Both were supposed to report for duty first thing Dec. 7. Just minutes before Kelley's shift started, the attack alert was broadcast over the loudspeakers.

"Man your battle stations. This is no 'bleep'. And he used a dirty word there - but it was an ideal word to let everybody know that this was the real thing," Kelley said.

He snapped into action, not even pausing to put on his shoes and was first to his station in the lowest deck of the ship.

"While I was running to my battle station, I felt the first torpedo hit the ship and it shook it like a small toy boat. It was incredible," Kelley said.

By that time - the deck above them was already flooded with 3 feet of water and oil.

"As a young eager-beaver who'd just graduated from the Naval Academy, I kept saying, almost with delight, 'This is what I was trained for,'" he said.

After the first three of six torpedoes hit the port side, Kelley and his commander made the necessary call to seal the water-tight doors and hatches.

"The most vivid thing, I think, was the horror of having to trap four men who were trying to get in our compartment, which was flooding, and hold the door against them while they were screaming," he said as his eyes grew misty.

Kelley had to stay focused to save the men who could still be saved

"My boss and I were the busiest on the ship because we were counter flooding the ship to prevent it from rolling over, the way we found out later the Oklahoma did, trapping 600 men."

He knew it was only time before their battleship went down, so they scrambled to find a way out through a narrow passage.

"We all escaped one-by-one up that tube. It was about an 80-foot climb, slipping on steel rungs with oil all over them," he recalled.

When they finally surfaced, they caught their first sight at what was really happening in the rest of the harbor.

"There were flames throughout Pearl Harbor and oil in the water and flames coming up from the oil," he said.

"I could see that the Arizona was flaming several hundred feet high and I said to myself, 'Goodbye, Uncle Bruce.'"

But in one of those odd turns of fate and circumstance that often accompany tragedies like this, his uncle did not die that day.

"He had called the first lieutenant of the Arizona, who was a bachelor, and swapped duties with him. Uncle Bruce regretted that the rest of his life because that first lieutenant was killed."

The survivor guilt also haunts Kelley.

"Just last night, my daughter, Sharon, said, 'You realize Daddy if you'd been killed at Pearl Harbor, that not only would I not have been here, but your grandchildren and great-grandchildren,'" he said. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Like many men who have been in combat including Gen. Eisenhower, one of our greatest generals, the thing to take away from Pearl Harbor is we must do everything we can to avoid future wars," Kelley said.

Kelley was ordered to take a month leave after the attack and then transferred to another ship in San Francisco. He's been back to Pearl Harbor a couple times since then.

The USS West Virginia was repaired and taken out of service in 1947, then later sold for scrap.

Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

SLIDESHOW: Pearl Harbor survivor Archie Kelley