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William Hendley, Pearl Harbor survivor (Photo: Hendley family)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — It is a day that rocked our nation 76 years ago, the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Survivors were honored Thursday in a ceremony hosted by the World War II Wilmington Coalition. Three Pearl Harbor survivors who live in the Cape Fear area were recognized.

Harold Garrish watched the USS Arizona go down. As for Leslie Hollenbeck, he was raising flags aboard the USS Pennsylvania when the Japanese aircrafts started swarming the area.

Hollenbeck thought at the time it was just a training exercise.

“A couple minutes later I hear a big explosion, now that doesn’t happen because when they’re practicing they’re not using explosives,” Hollenbeck said.

William Hendley was aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was bombed.

All three were honored for surviving the surprise attack that plunged the country into World War II.

Hendley was in the shower with nine other men at the time of the bombing. If it was not for his Chief Petty Officer, Hendley would not be here today to share his story.

When the bombs hit the USS Oklahoma, Hendley and the other men had to escape from the port hole on the ship. His chief officer couldn’t fit so he helped the others get out, Hendley said his chief prayed while knowing his fate.

“Thank him for God sakes,” Hendley said. “Thank him for, I wouldn’t have wanted him to lose his life but I appreciate the fact that he did lose his life saving eight of us,” Hendley said.

Hendley and the 8 others jumped into the water surrounded by fire with no clothes, then had to swim to the beach for safety. Hendley’s best friend among thousands of others died that fateful day in 1941.

“They said for three days they could hear sailors tapping,” Hendley’s son, Bill Hendley said. “They could hear them tapping but they couldn’t get them out. And finally after the third day the tapping stopped and they knew they were all dead.”

It was a tragic day that changed the world and the United States forever, but one that will be commemorated for the fall men and women for eternity.

Hendley says today is about remembering those who died fighting for our country.

The World War II Wilmington Coalition also honored dozens of World War II veterans for their service as well.

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