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'I'll tell you, they blew that place apart' | Pearl Harbor survivor remembers the day that changed history

Robert Storey is a United States Navy veteran who joined the service in 1939. He remembered the day he decided to join the Navy.

TEMPLE, Texas — The attack on Pearl Harbor happened nearly 78 years ago but it is fresh in the mind of 96-year-old Robert Storey.

"I'll tell you, they blew that place apart," Storey said. "It was terrible. We just shaped up, got ready for battle. That's the whole story."

Storey is a native Texan and a United States Navy Veteran who joined the service in 1939. He remembered the day he decided to join the Navy, only to be turned away.

"They weren't taking many guys in the Navy at the time I went in," Storey said. "I went to Waco and this old timer chief was on the desk up there and he said, 'Storey, we aren't taking anybody right now but if we do, I'll give you a call.' So, he took my telephone number and my house number."

Storey said that call came quickly.

"About three or four weeks after that he calls, he said, 'Get up here, you're going to Dallas," Storey said.

Storey and three other guys from the area, boarded the first train to Dallas to the recruiting center.

"That guy that was in there was a Lieutenant and he told us to just knock around here. But when I tell you to fall out here to the front, that's what you do," Storey said. "I know two guys chickened out, they went back home. They just walked out." 

Two years after he joined the Navy, Sunday, December 7, 1941, was like any other day for Storey and his shipmates aboard the USS Salt Lake City. That day ended up being the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked.

"Our task force was heading back to Pearl from Frisco," Storey said. "And that's when we got word that the Japanese were blowing that place apart."

The USS Salt Lake City was about 200 miles from Pearl Harbor when the attacks began. Shortly before 9:00AM, the severity of the attacks and the uncertainty that followed meant the Pensacola-cruiser was ordered to stay at sea.

"We didn't go in right away. We stayed out about three days before they let us come inside and we couldn't believe what saw when we moved in there," Storey said.

The Japanese traveled nearly 3,400 miles across the Pacific, stationing themselves 230 miles North off the Hawaiian island of Oahu. They executed their attack on the Americans and dropped bombs and bullets on the Sailors below, while also launching torpedoes at their vessels in the water.

Over 2,400 men were killed, nearly 1,300 were wounded and 960 were missing. That left America weakened and scrambling.

"They never did find them, they went back home. Left out, took off," Storey said. "I had a good friend who was killed, they never did find any part of him. Blew him all to pieces."

Storey said the USS Salt Lake City was transformed as quick as possible following the attack.

"We didn't have near the guns and stuff we had later, see," he said. "We had stuff that had to be added later after the war started and we had a first class ship after that."

The 'Old Swayback' as it was sometimes called, won 11 Battle Stars for the World War service and it holds the unofficial distinction of having taken part in more combat missions than any other World War II Pacific Fleet.

"I had a lot of buddies on there," Storey said. "When we first had seen what the Japanese had done to that Pearl Harbor that made us kind of, mad."

Storey said they lost 28 men from the USS Salt Lake City, but there isn't one man he will ever forget.

"I know this one kid who was a 3rd Class Radioman," Storey said. "We took a hit there and he got hit right in the head with a piece of shrapnel but he got a hold of that shell and he still had enough gumption he went over and threw that shell, because it was already armed and ready to fire. He went over and threw that thing over the side of the ship. That saved it from blowing up on the ship."

When the war ended in 1945, Storey was in Okinawa, Japan. His service ended and he returned to Central Texas where he was born and raised. 

When he got out of the military, he worked as a carpenter and then for a propane company.

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