They witnessed history at Pearl Harbor, and lived to tell about it.
Vaughn Drake, 93, of Lexington, and Frankfort's Herman Horn, 91, are among the area's last living Pearl Harbor survivors. Indeed, Drake is the last known survivor still living in Lexington.
Statewide, only 15 survivors are still listed with the Kentucky Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, according to chapter president Jon Toy of Mount Sterling. The chapter once had more than 100 members.
Both Drake and Horn plan to attend the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Association's annual Pearl Harbor Day luncheon at the Oleika Shrine Temple in Lexington Wednesday, the 70th anniversary of the attack.
Drake was a U.S. Army engineer serving at a camp on Oahu when Japanese planes attacked nearby Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He knew things were serious when a Japanese plane crashed into a building near where he was standing. Drake later recovered a small chunk of metal from the plane's wreckage, which he has kept to this day.
"About that time a truck rolled in with a bunch of men who yelled that Pearl Harbor was in flames," Drake recalled in a 1991 interview. "We couldn't believe it, even though it was happening right in front of our eyes."
Horn was part of an Army anti-aircraft outfit stationed near the entrance to Pearl Harbor, assigned to protect the harbor's anti-submarine nets from air attack. But Horn remembers his experiences on Dec. 7, 1941, as mainly a comedy of errors.
He said he and others in his outfit were issued 35 rounds of rifle ammunition each — and then told not to use it.
"They wanted us to save ammunition because they thought the Japanese might invade the island," he said. "We could have shot their eyeballs out, but we were told not to fire."
Horn and some others then jumped onto a truck and headed for an anti-aircraft battery 12 miles away where there were guns they could use. The trip was interrupted several times when Japanese planes strafed the roadway.
"When we saw planes coming we would bang on the roof of the truck," Horn said. "They would stop, and we'd all run and hide in the sugar cane fields beside the road where they couldn't see us.
"We didn't fire one shot during the whole attack. It was pathetic. But we were very, very lucky."
Drake says he bears no animosity toward Japan today, but has never been able to forgive the way Japanese soldiers treated American troops who were captured during the war.
"Those fellows were tortured and starved," he said. "That keeps me from ever wanting to buy a Japanese car. I feel like I'd be betraying the memory of those boys if I did any more to help the Japanese economy than I absolutely had to."
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.