BEAUFORT – Gene Morrison remembers being a 19-year-old boy on a double date on Dec. 7, 1941, when he first heard news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that left nearly 2,500 people dead and a thousand more wounded.
By April the following year, he was enlisted in the service, beginning a 30-plus year career where he fought in three separate wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He eventually retired as a colonel, after decades of experience and stories.
“I thought it was a pretty dastardly attack on the behalf of the Japanese to attack us without a declaration of war,” Mr. Morrison said in reference to the surprise assault on Pearl Harbor. “Now I wasn’t big on what was proper, but that’s like walking up to someone and slugging them without any warning whatsoever.”
Now 90 years old and a Beaufort resident for several decades, he clearly remembers details of that infamous day when he was in California on the double date. While he remembers the location and his friends, he admitted with a sheepish grin that he doesn’t remember his date’s name.
“We were tooling down U.S. Highway 101 between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach when the announcement came over the radio,” Mr. Morrison said as he recalled the exact moment 71 years ago when he heard Japanese fighter planes had attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
He was going for a two-year college degree at the time, but enlisted in the service about four months after the attack. “The Navy was kind enough to not put me on active duty until after I graduated,” he said.
He enlisted as seaman 2nd class V-5 for aviation training. He already had his pilot’s license by the time he entered the service. After his training, he went into the Marines. Throughout his career he flew fighter planes and helicopters, earning him numerous medals along the way.
Mr. Morrison served as a fighter pilot in a Corsair airplane and piloted the H-34 and H035 helicopters.
Many of the casualties at the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor that dreadful day occurred on the naval battleship USS Arizona. The ship was the biggest loss of the 18 ships hit and nearly 300 airplanes destroyed. The USS Arizona was hit four separate times by Japanese bombers.
The attack Dec. 7, 1941, ushered America into World War II, and the following day President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed it would be a “date which will live in infamy.” It remains as one of the deadliest attacks in U.S. history.
Earlier this week, Gov. Bev Perdue ordered all U.S. and state flags at state facilities to be lowered to half-staff during daylight hours today, in honor of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
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