75 years later, Louisville Navy Vet remembers Pearl Harbor

75 years later, Louisville Navy Vet remembers Pearl Harbor
Bill Wester as a young sailor (Source: Bill Wester)
Bill Wester as a young sailor (Source: Bill Wester)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A full day of honors and remembrance will happen as the nation marks the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.

At age 100, Louisville Navy Veteran Bill Wester still has a quite a memory, remembering details from 75 years ago. Wester says he will never forget the attack that killed some 2,400 Americans and caused the U.S. to declare war on Japan.

Looking spiffy in his dress uniform the day WAVE 3 News spoke with him, Wester knows the secret to looking so young at 100.

"I drank a lot of moonshine," Wester laughed. "I guess it preserved me you know?"

Wester still has a good sense of humor too, but when it comes to the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it gets serious fast.

"It's hard to talk about," Wester said.

Wester was on the heavy cruiser the USS Salt Lake City that fateful Sunday morning.

"On December 7, the Salt Lake City was returning from Wake Island," he recalled. Wester's crew was just west of Pearl Harbor, escorting the Enterprise aircraft carrier group when they got word of Japan's sneak attack.

"We came into Pearl Harbor and of course, everything was burning," Wester remembered.

That included the USS Arizona. At his gun station, Wester remembers being covered in a whirlwind of smoke.

"I had hot oil running all off me burning my skin." Emotions still run high 75 years later, "I had seen guys come aboard the ship that were burned to a crisp, " Wester recalled. "They were sitting there and they were still alive, but they didn't know it, I don't think."

Throughout the war, distinct memories like when one kamikaze pilot had him in his sights.

"He was between the two ships and he come right up to our fantail and he was looking right at me laughing."  Wester says the pilot tried to crash into the bridge, but missed and hit a gun tub instead, causing the plane to exploded in the air.

"I had so many close calls," he said, "a few more inches or a foot or two and it could have cost me my neck. I was shot, knifed, knocked in the head."

Wester says he hopes young vets involved in conflict now will hear his message.

"You do what you have to do, nothing you can do, but take what comes along and make the
best of it you can and do the best you can."

The Chief Petty Officer served in the Navy for 20 years and five days. He will turn 101 on March 11.

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