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Eyewitness remembers Pearl Harbor attack

Eyewitness remembers Pearl Harbor attack
Louis "Bud" Billmyer was 21 when he was stationed at Pearl Harbor and witnessed the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

When Louis "Bud" Billmyer boarded the USS Medusa in San Pedro, Calif., as a second class seaman in November 1940 and headed out to sea for Pearl Harbor, he had no idea that a year later, he would become part of a historic day.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Billmyer had joined the Navy in spring 1940, right out of high school in Cresco, Iowa, where he was born and raised and lives today. He went to the Great Lakes Naval Station for six weeks of training, and then was sent to San Pedro to board the Medusa.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Billmyer, who was 21 at the time, was stationed on the Medusa and was on his way to a church service on another ship. Then, the Japanese began bombing Pearl Harbor. He ran for his battle station on the Medusa and was handed a machine gun.

The Medusa was a repair vessel — a sort of "floating factory" that could repair all kinds of Navy ships, except submarines — didn't come under direct attack. The Medusa and its crew survived the day intact.

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But from his vantage point, Billmyer witnessed many of the day's horrorific events — including the bombing and sinking of the USS Utah and USS Arizona, in which 1,235 men lost their lives.

"It was a tremendous day; a devastating day," he said.

The U.S. response to the attack was to declare war on Japan and its allies (Germany and Italy).  Billmyer, who repaired optical instruments such as sextants, binoculars and range finders, didn't get back to the U.S. mainland until 1944.

"I was gone for 47 months before I had a day off," he said.

He was married in October 1944, while he was stationed on a ship in Miami. He and his wife Mary have six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After getting out of the Navy in 1946, they settled back in Cresco. He worked at Sears and then at a furniture store. He eventually bought the furniture store and ran it for 30 years. His son now operates the store.

Billmyer, now 91, said he's been back to visit Pearl Harbor three times since he left in 1944. In October 2010, he went along with other World War II veterans on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial.

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