It’s been 71 years since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the numbers of survivors is dwindling.
The National Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which closed in 2011, estimates that there are 8,000 living survivors – and one of them who remember every detail of his experience – lives in central Ohio.
Milton Mapou was a 20-year-old Seaman First Class on the USS Detroit, when his ship came under a surprise attack.
“My whole body was just shaking,” Mapou said. “He was low. He was coming in low to drop his torpedo. He was close enough I could see the pilot’s face. He was sitting in there, grinning.”
The torpedo missed Mapou’s ship and struck Ford Island. His fellow boats men on the USS Arizona were not as fortunate.
“To see the Arizona go up, that was frightening to see all that will all those men aboard it,” Mapou said.
That brush with death was not Mapou’s last. It was the next year, in 1942, aboard a new ship, the USS Pringle, that a Japanese bomber would find his ship.
“It was a sea plane that dropped the bomb and took off,” Mapou said. “It I would have turned around, it would have got me in the front between the eyes.”
Mapou said that shrapnel from the blast tore through his gun mount.
Once he was patched up, Mapou headed back on deck to face his third brush with death.
“We were hit by a kamikaze between Okinawa and Japan,” Mapou said. “When the plane hit, it hit right near where I was. When I came to, all I could hear was yelling. Everybody abandoned ship.”
Mapou said that he could not move.
“My foot was up here and twisted around,” Mapou said. “You could look down at my pants all ripped, and all you could see was bone.”
With a fractured femur, his boat sinking and men jumping overboard, Mapou figured it was his end.
“I prayed to God, ‘Dear God, please help me get off this ship,’” Mapou said.
Mapou said that a crew member pulled the cord on his life jacket before abandoning ship. He floated, making it to a life raft.
“I just hung on to that life raft for two and a half hours,” Mapou said.
Mapou’s injuries forced his retirement from the Navy after only a six-year career. He was awarded the Purple Heart, among other awards.
It has been seven decades since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Mapou is one of the few survivors left to tell the tale.
“We stayed there and fought that day,” Mapou said.
He said he hopes younger generations will remember his story when he’s gone.
“These kids today should know what it is,” Mapou said.
The attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,402 Americans.
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