It has been 76 years since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Records from the Augusta Richmond County Historical Society once documented as many as eight Augustans who survived the attack that pulled America into World War II. Alvin Mays, now 95, is the only one left.
The Dec. 7. 1941 attack killed more than 2,400 Americans and destroyed nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and more than 300 planes.
Mays, an Army veteran, had been assigned to the 21st infantry, 24th Division, at Schofield Barracks when the attack occurred. He reflected Monday on the Japanese fighter planes that flew overhead, spraying those below with bullets, following the bombing of the U.S. naval base, located near Honolulu, Hawaii.
“I just had walked out of the mess hall that morning and heard all the bombing and everything sounding off at a distance,” Mays said . “Just minutes after that we began to see the planes flying over. They came in striking the 21st infantry at treetop level and lucky for us we did not have any casualties that morning.”
Mays, who served as a mechanic, was assigned to the base after enlisting in 1941. He was 18. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Mays deployed to Australia, then to the Philippines where he fought on the front lines before being ordered back to the States.
“When I got to Hawaii, I didn’t take any basic training,” he said. “That was very unusual, but they were just motorizing their infantry at that time. I went straight into the motor pool and that’s where I stayed until MacArthur signed the treaty.”
Paul Harless, a 96-year-old Navy veteran and current North Augusta resident, was not at Pearl Harbor when the attack occurred but had been enlisted in the military for about two-and-a-half years.
Harless — who enlisted in the Navy at 17 — served a year aboard the USS Arkansas before he was reassigned to Washington, D.C. to serve on the USS Potomac, which was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht until his death in 1945.
It was after the ship docked in Newport News, Va., that Harless and others in his crew received news of the Sunday attack.
“I was in Washington Naval Hospital at that time,” Harless recounted Monday. “I went over there to visit a boy that was in a car wreck and was checking up on him when they announced that Pearl Harbor happened.”
Harless, who is the last remaining crew member who served on the yacht with Roosevelt, said news of the attack came as a “shock,” however he felt the military had been tracking Japanese fleets before it occurred.
“They had been copying communications from Japan to their ships,” he said. “They didn’t know it but we broke their code and they knew when their fleet first left Japan that they were heading somewhere out there, and that’s when the battle took place.”
Harless served on several vessels during the second World War. He has received Battle Stars for his service during the Battle of Okinawa during which he shot down a kamikaze plane. He was discharged as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class following the war and called back to active duty as Chief Boatswain’s Mate during the Korean War until completing his service in 1954.