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Arizona Pearl Harbor Survivor Opens Up After 7 Decades Of Silence

Sun Lakes resident Jack Holder enlisted in the Navy as a machinist in 1940. He was 18 years old.

The Texas native was stationed in Hawaii a year later on Dec. 7, 1941, and vividly recounts the day the United States was plunged into World War II.

"My section had just fell in for muster," Holder said. "When the section leader started roll call we heard a screaming aircraft — and moments later a horrible explosion. We ran outside, and the hangar beside us received the first bomb that fell in Pearl Harbor.”

It happened literally right before Holder’s eyes.

"The explosion and everything caught a bunch of our aircraft on fire," he explained. "We looked at the sky and seen all the aircraft circling with the rising sun insignia, and we knew exactly what had happened."

Holder knows he was lucky to survive the 'day that will live in infamy.'

"One of my shipmates had remembered there was sewer line under construction behind our hangar. He says, 'Let’s go for the ditch, follow me.' We all ran, jumped in the ditch," Holder continued. "My most vivid remembrance was, 'God, please don’t let me die in this ditch.'"

After hours of taking cover, Holder and his shipmate were immediately thrown into more action.

"Martial law was declared right away," he said. "(There was) a complete blackout all over the Hawaiian Islands. Machine gun pits, constructed from sandbags were set up all around. Two shipmates and I occupied one of them for three days and nights. We had no idea of where the Japanese fleet was, or if they planned to return. But every aircraft and every ship noise we heard, we figured it was them."

When the danger had finally passed, it was time to let the rest of the world, including his parents, know of his fate.

"Everyone was given a postcard at that time with two inscriptions. The first one said 'I've been wounded,' the second one said 'I'm okay, don’t worry,"' Holder said. "My mother received this card 11 days later. Later, when I seen my father, he said my mother was hysterical at that time, she got on her knees and prayed to God if he would save her son, she’d spend the rest of her days working for the church, and she did."

However, it took Holder more than seven decades to finally tells his amazing story publicly.

“Until four, five or six years ago, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even tell my golfing buddies that I was a World War II vet," Holder said. "But I met a young lady, she started asking me a lot of questions and she said ‘you’ve gotta come out of the closet.'"

Now, at 97 years old, Holder speaks to anyone, anywhere about his experience.

"I give a lot of presentations all over the country," Holder said, "and the younger generation — so many of them have told me, 'You know, we want to hear it from a person who was there and not a historian.'"

After all these years, he says the retelling of his epic story has been cathartic.

"It's changed my viewpoint on a lot of things," he said. "Yes, I guess it’s been a relief for me and actually, it's an enjoyment."

And why does Holder tell the younger generation about what he went through?

"To just recognize that we live in the greatest country in the world, they need to be able to respect it, they need to be able to fight for it, if they need to. Stay in school, get all the education they can. Education was not as necessary when I was growing up as it is today. They gotta stay in school, get all the knowledge they can, and sometimes that’s not enough."

As the Greatest Generation fades away, we’re hoping to keep their memories alive. If you know of someone, like Jack, who would like to remembered for their service in World War II, write to Phil Latzman at [email protected].

Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.