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Pearl Harbor veterans honored in Gridley
A few of the last remaining area Pearl Harbor survivors met at the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley on Friday morning to pay their respects and share their stories in what might be the final year the memorial service is held.
Only three survivors showed up to the annual event — the smallest number Sutter resident and survivor Art Rodda has seen since he first attended the service 20 years ago. The thin size of Friday's crowd, a total of about 20, could be a sign that the memorial anniversary service is in its last year, Rodda said.
Rodda was on the battleship Nevada when the attack occurred at 9:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. He was listening to the national anthem near the back of the ship when he heard machine gun fire from strafing Japanese planes.
"Planes were flying so low you could see their faces," Rodda said.
Amid the explosions and gunfire, Rodda said he escaped the blast of a torpedo explosion that struck about 400 feet from where he was standing.
"We were scared, naturally," he said. "We trained for a war, but we didn't expect one."
Arthur Wells, a 90-year-old Chico resident, was one of the survivors who attended Friday's service. Some veterans weren't able to make it because of physical limitations, he said. And health problems among officers has led to the disbanding of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association's local chapter.
During the attack, Wells was a marine on the battleship Pennsylvania. He was in charge of keeping track of the ship's crew, and on walking to the main office through the ship's steel corridors, when he heard the explosions outside. He peered out of a ship porthole to see a Japanese fighter plane firing a burst of shells.
Wells moved to his battle station, where he watched the USS Oklahoma roll over after receiving heavy damage.
"It turned over so fast that when her mast hit the water, it made a splash," he said.
Fred Smith was a hospital corpsman during the attack, and one of the three survivors at the service. Smith admits that this year's turnout is the smallest it's ever been, and said that watching fewer veterans attend the event might be more difficult if it wasn't for his experiences treating casualties at Pearl Harbor.
For Wells, remembering the events of Pearl Harbor doesn't bother him most days. But every year, as Dec. 7 draws closer, he starts to get antsy.
"It was a day that you never forget," he said.