The following report is brought to you by Logan Payne, special to Patch.com.
"For those who remember, it was a terrible time." The statement came during opening prayer for the Tuesday morning Rotary Club meeting held at Casta del Sol Golf Course.
A month after the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Howard Bender, 91, one of the five remaining survivors living in Orange County, spoke of his memories from December 7th, 1941 when he was onboard the USS Maryland.
With about 30 members of MV’s Rotary International looking on, Bender gave his eyewitness account of the attack. The crowd was brought to silence when he was asked what it was like to see the bodies of dead soldiers strewn around the bay.
"I can’t go there," he said as he gripped the back of a chair and tears welled in his eyes.
Bender's eight-year career in the Navy began in 1941 after he graduated high school. When he told his father he would spend the next six years serving, the father replied, "I’ll welcome you when you get back."
Sent to Pearl Harbor almost immediately, Bender landed on the USS Arizona in a draft, but was eventually transferred to the USS Maryland, the same craft he was stationed on the day of the Japanese attack.
Through a porthole on the USS Maryland, Bender witnessed the USS Oklahoma being hit and immediately leaned the ship around 14 degrees. "Get to the battlestation," he thought as the devastating sound of ships being hit surrounded him and his crewmates.
When asked how he reacted to the attack Bender proved his sense of humor: "It’s not until after the fact when you check your shorts."
Aside from retelling his experience of that "rude awakening" on December 7th, Bender dubbed the island of Oahu the "greatest place in the world to have duty, with its pristine beaches. Not like the Hawaii you see today."
The lively and humorous survivor emphasized "freedom is not free." You should never give up your freedom, he said, because once you do, you will never get it back.