TAMPA, Fla. - Bill Monfort was a radio operator on a Navy destroyer on December 7, 1941.
"I had just gone on watch," he said. "I was the first person to know about Pearl Harbor being bombed."
Monfort is now 106 years old and closed to his 107th birthday on December 17, but he remembers the call like it was yesterday.
"'Air raid on Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill,'" he recalled hearing.
Japan’s surprise attack killed nearly 2,400 American service members and civilians. Following the attack, Monfort’s destroyer unsuccessfully pursued the Japanese fleet and returned to Pearl Harbor four days after the attack.
"There was still oil burning on the water, and I saw all the battleships sitting on the bottom," said Monfort.
The attacked launched the U.S. into World War II, and Monfort served throughout the war. His walls at The Landmark Assisted Living facility in Clearwater display the history of his squadron’s exploits in the Pacific.
His cap tells the story of a narrow escape with the words, "World War II Kamikaze Survivor."
Monfort said he was outside his radio room on the Destroyer Claxton when he saw the Japanese suicide pilot diving toward his ship.
"The aircraft was aiming for the bridge. It was aiming straight for the bridge," said Monfort.
But, one of the ship’s gunners managed to hit the plane in a wing, causing it to veer away from the bridge and toward Monfort.
"And he went by maybe 15-20 feet from me," he said, adding that it crashed in a ball of flames further back on the deck.
"The plane and the bomb on board exploded. It made a hole in the ship about 30 feet long and 12 feet deep," said Monfort.
The Claxton needed lots of repairs, but Monfort was fine, and he still is.
"I feel good," he smiles. "I don't feel like I’m 107 coming up."
With an amazing memory of an infamous day in history and a Kamikaze coming right at him, Monfort can tell a firsthand account of World War II that few can match.
"I’ve had people ask me, ‘were you scared?’ I don’t know. I probably was, but I had a job to do, and I did it," he said.