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Local man remembers Pearl Harbor

By Ellen Bacca
Published On: Dec 07 2012 04:25:28 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 07 2012 05:47:42 PM CST
Jones County -

Before the fight, Thomas Harriet's cruiser was known as the USS St. Louis. After Pearl Harbor, it became "The Lucky Lou".

92-year-old Thomas Harriet, a Navy Veteran, was fresh into the service when assigned to the infamous harbor. He says December 7th, 1941 started just like any other day.

"It was a beautiful day, a beautiful day." said Harriet.

In the warm weather Harriet was most concerned about football updates closer to home.

"Duke University was in the running for the Rose Bowl for 1941. And I wanted to see how they were making out." said Harriet.

It was the sound of gunfire that cut through the tranquility, and shook him into action.

"Of course I immediately started running for my battle station which happened to be an anti-aircraft gun." said Harriet.

Harriet says, there was no time for fear, only action. His eyes stayed trained on the sky, searching for enemy planes flying low down the Harbor.

"And all that went on around me, I really didn't see what had happened. Like the Arizona blowing up, the battle ships turning over." said Harriet.

The USS St. Louis shot down three of these fighters. Harriet says, he ripped cloth from his shirt to stuff in his ears to block the sound of the deafening shots.

The cruiser started to push out of the harbor, but not without a direct attack.

"I saw the torpedo drop and it was coming for us, but it hit a coral reef and exploded instead." said Harriet.

This close call is what transformed the USS St. Louis into "The Lucky Lou". In fact, the USS St. Louis was the only big ship to make it out of the harbor. After joining up with a carrier, Harriet and his crew were out at sea for several days. The shock of the strike didn't sink in for the sailor till their ship approached the  harbor in the wake of the attack.

"When we came back in, we saw bodies being picked up out of the water." said Harriet. "And of course the fires were out, but they were burned black. All the ships were sunk, turned over, and that's when your knees get weak."

Tom Harriet says he doesn't mind remembering his times at sea. After ten years of service in the Navy, he retired to be with his wife.