Pearl Harbor survivor recalls torpedo hitting Helena

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He was the brave sailor at Pearl Harbor who was wounded in the attack, but still managed to raise the flag aboard his ship.

The moment the Union Jack was raised on the bow of the light cruiser Helena in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was recalled in a letter written by a Navy sailor, and intended for then-18-year-old Charles McClelland, 

Historian Cliff Moffet read part of the letter for us.

"You grabbed the chord with both hands and ran the Jack all the way up. Then you fell back on the deck."

However, what the letter describes isn't the best part of that piece of history. As a reporter, having the chance to talk to that sailor face-to-face is the ultimate source of information.

The Helena was hit by a torpedo and McClelland said he saw it coming.

"When it hit, I landed on the deck and that's when I broke my leg," 93-year-old McClelland recalled as we talked at the Zephyrhills Museum of Military History in a restored Army Air Corps barracks at the municipal airport.

Sadly, Pearl Harbor survivors are an aging population, and with only 3,000 remaining, across the country, these may be our last opportunities to hear them tell history.

They are of a community who began by losing so many.

"We had 11 Pearl Harbor survivors. They're going quickly. We had three of them pass away this year, so far," Moffett said.

Nothing can replace a face-to-face account of the attack.

"They flew close enough that you could see the pilot in the cockpit," McClelland said.

Each time I interview a Pearl Harbor survivor, I wonder how many more times I will have the honor. On this 75th observance, I'm thankful that Charles can tell me about it in person.