December 7, 2017, marks the 76th anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor.
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Now in their 90s and often approaching age 100, meeting a veteran of the Pearl Harbor invasion is rare. In 2015, an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 Pearl Harbor veterans were thought to be still alive. In Brazil, IN, a longtime Hoosier is a member of that shrinking group.
Serving as a U.S. Navy Seaman on the USS Sacramento, known as Gunboat No. 19, Tom Hill, recalls the events of Pearl Harbor with clarity. When the alarm bell rang, he was the only one in the cafeteria eating his breakfast. While he thought the alarm was just a drill, he went topside and saw the planes and heard the bombs going off. "...Everyone ran to battle stations. I ran up to the bridge and helped them get out the ammunition," recounted Hill in a 2016 IndyStar article.
Hill had never been taught how to shoot but was handed an M-1 rifle. He was quickly shown by a person walking by how to get the shells in the gun. "We were firing at the torpedo planes coming over the stern of our ship. I could see the pilots; I could see their faces. They were coming that close. It was scary; you know what I mean?" While he didn't think firing with his rifle did any good, he was glad to be doing everything he could during the invasion that killed so many and launched the United States into World War II.
Entering Pearl Harbor on Aug. 15, 1941, The USS Sacramento was assigned to the Naval Coastal Force of the 14th Naval District. During the attack, the Sacramento was berthed in the Navy Yard's repair berth B-6, with two destroyers beside her. The Sacramento's battle stations were manned by 08:00, only five minutes after the attack began. Two minutes later, her gun crews opened fire on Japanese aircraft attacking "Battleship Row." Her batteries assisted in destroying one enemy plane and then helped down another which was pressing an attack on the USS Nevada. The Sacramento's boat crews participated in rescue and salvage operations throughout the aftermath of the battle including the rescue of two dozen sailors from the USS Oklahoma. In 1984, The Sacramento was honored with the public unveiling of her bell which was dedicated to the ship and crew by the City of Sacramento and the Sacramento Navy League.
Enlisted five years and eight months in the U.S. Navy, Hill recalls most men on the USS Sacramento were from Indiana, like him. Born in 1923 in Indianapolis, Hill enrolled in the U.S. Reserves at the age of 16. Only 18 at the time of the Pearl Harbor invasion, Hill's role was to steer the ship. Rising to the rank of Quartermaster First Class, Tom left the U.S. Navy in 1945 to pursue other options, including working 28 years at U.S. Naval Avionics. For years, he belonged to a Pearl Harbor Survivor Club in Indianapolis that met monthly.
Tom and his wife, Vi, married in 1947 and recently celebrated 70 years of marriage. Together, Tom and Vi returned to Pearl Harbor in 1991 to mark the 50th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack. The National Park Service and the U.S. Navy will co-host the 76th Commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 2017.
Now at age 94, Hill and his wife are residents at Towne Park Assisted Living of Brazil. On Dec. 7 at 2 p.m., Towne Park Assisted Living of Brazil will celebrate Tom Hill Day in recognition for the service given to our country for five years and especially one frightful December morning.
State Representative Alan Morrison and Brazil Mayor Brian Wyndham will be in attendance at the Dec. 7 ceremony to present Hill with a plaque and certificate.
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