William “Bill” Hughes tells you not to call him ‘Sir’.
“And, please don’t call me ‘Mr. Bill.’ No, thank you. I prefer ‘Sir, William,'” he jokes with a sheepish grin.
The 95-year-old now calls CHRISTUS St. Joseph Village home. CHRISTUS St. Joseph is a retirement and assisted living community in Coppell, a suburban part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Hughes’ daughter and many of his neighbors at CHRISTUS St. Joseph turned out to hear the veteran speak during a special Veteran’s Day event. Hughes still has very vivid memories of Dec. 7, 1941.
“I don’t want this to be all about me. I would like to ask you to pray for every American in the military and harm’s way that they return safely. Yes, I’m a Pearl Harbor survivor.”
The surprise attack on America’s Pacific Fleet changed history and launched the United States into World War II. December 7th is the date which will live in infamy. But it is more than a historical moment for Hughes, it’s a part of his life.
Hughes was asleep in the radio operator bunk room of the USS Utah when the jolt from an explosion almost threw him from his cot. Initially, the radio man first class thought that one of the other ships in the harbor might have accidentally run into his battleship. But 20 seconds later, another torpedo hit and Japanese warplanes appeared from above and began dropping bombs on his Hawaiian naval base.
“I wasn’t even mad at them until they started killing us,” said Hughes, who had to jump from the sinking ship and swim ashore to take cover in a ditch. He watched his shipmates being killed.
Hughes says he personally knows of only about five Pearl Harbor survivors who are still alive. The majority of the thousands of uniformed personnel in Hawaii at the time of the attack are no longer with us. Most survivors, like Hughes, are in their 90s and beyond.
Yet, as an aging veteran, Hughes still tries regularly to join in military reunions. He has an impressive collection of memorabilia, books and pictures from Pearl Harbor and plans to return to Hawaii next month to remember the dozens of men who were killed nearly 75 years ago.