Seventy-eight years ago, Japanese fighter planes descended upon the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor at 8 a.m. as John Campbell, then in the Marine Corps, was in his bed 100 yards away from where bombs started dropping.
“We thought at first they were the army, navy doing maneuvers,” said Campbell, 99, a resident of La Vida Del Mar in Solana Beach.
Moments later, he learned the base was under attack. Nearly 2,400 U.S. military service members and 68 civilians were killed that day. About half of them were aboard the USS Arizona, which remains sunken in Pearl Harbor and serves as a memorial.
Campbell, believed to be the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor in San Diego, was honored during a Pearl Harbor Day luncheon at the senior living facility Dec. 6. He was joined by other U.S. military veterans who now live at La Vida Del Mar, including those who served during World War II.
Campbell said the Japanese forces did a good job concealing the attack until the moment their 40 torpedo planes, 103 level bombers, 131 dive bombers and 79 fighters appeared in the sky over the island.
“It was such as surprise,” he said.
The officers on the base were gone for the weekend leading up to the Sunday attack, Campbell added, and there was a “pretty relaxed” atmosphere in Pearl Harbor before that Sunday morning.
But the attack was not as debilitating to U.S. forces as the Japanese hoped. The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt received a declaration of war against Japan from Congress. Over the following months, the United States recovered and sunk four Japanese aircraft carriers in June 1942, during the Battle of the Midway.
“I’m fortunate to be here,” Campbell said, reflecting on his memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor and his military service during an interview shortly before the ceremony.