From the National Geographic “Remembering Pearl Harbor” collection:
Now 93, Ira D. Huff remembers being aboard the West Virginia when it was sunk.
He made it off alive; 106 of his shipmates did not.
Huff almost died, too, a victim of bombs and refrigeration units.
Huff had been on duty the night before and was on his way back to his quarters from the mess hall when the attack started. What knocked him unconscious was not the blast from the bombs but the ammonia leaking from the ship’s refrigeration units. Luckily, his shipmates found him and pulled him topside.
“I woke up in about a foot of water or so,” he said.
Surprisingly, many of his memories are not of the horror and the chaos but of the small things that resulted from it.
He remembers being upset that he lost his dog tags. It wasn’t a problem. The Navy made him a new pair.
“I kept them on the rest of the war, ” Huff said.
He was also missing most of his clothes.
“The only thing I had on when I got off the ship and made it to Ford Island was a pair of shorts,” he said.
Still, no mundane details could block out the main one — that 106 of his shipmates were not as lucky as he was and died from the attack. Some were trapped in the hull when it sank and stayed alive for days, Huff said.
It wasn’t what he wanted when he joined the Navy. His goal had merely been to get away from a life on the farm.
While the memories aren’t pleasant ones, after surviving the attack and spending nearly three decades in the service, he will do what Americans at that time said to do. He will remember Pearl Harbor, and he thinks others would do well to do the same.
“I think they ought to remember it every year, because they can do it again and to my notion, they’re going to,” Huff said.
He remembers the anniversary every year, but doesn’t do anything in particular.
“I just try to live through it,” Huff said.