If headlines were to capture the war memories of World War II veteran and Pratt & Whitney retiree Walter Chapman, it would start on December 7, 1941 as he flew into Pearl Harbor after a routine patrol. Chapman was a radioman and gunner.
"It was Sunday morning, beautiful day," Chapman said from his apartment in Norwich, Connecticut. "What happened was, we saw the Arizona burning, they had been hit, and fumes were coming up. Christ, you could see it 10 miles away. As we were coming in, you could see the Arizona was burning, and I thought – God (expletive) it!"
The 99-year old World War II Navy man spent more time aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise than he did in the air, but it was the attacks from the air that perhaps are the most memorable. The news of the Enterprise being heavily bombed in 1942 would travel the globe. Chapman didn't need to read about it – he was there.
"In the afternoon they came after and they bombed the hell – they blew the aft, just blew aft of the ship," he said. "There was nothing left, all the way down to the bottom. They blew a hole, as big as this building. Because all the bombs went down, they were armor piercing, and you could hear them cutting through the metal – ROOM! ROOM! ROOM! And then they would blow up."
Fate would again intervene in Chapman's next memorable adventure – this time in the Atlantic after he was transferred aboard the carrier U.S.S. Guadalcanal. Once again, he was there – during the capture of the infamous German U-boat U505, which resulted in the recovery of key German encryption technology and code books. He watched the destroyer escort - or "DE" - U.S.S. Chatelain race in for the capture.
"They sent a DE to go to the sub, and the crew jumped up on the deck and they had a gun on the deck and they started shooting," he said. "And the DE fired back, they had a five inch, and they killed one. They all jumped overboard. And the carrier we was on – we picked them all up and put them in jail."
An unforgettable period in Chapman's life would end with an Allied victory. And if there's one key storyline from those who served – it's that so many World War II veterans remain humble – some even nonchalant about the dangers they faced – to ensure freedoms remained.
"I never gave it a thought that I'd get killed or get maimed," he said. "It just never entered my mind. I just did what I was told."