WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. -- Former lieutenant commander and Pearl Harbor veteran, Edward Vezey Jr. has shared his memories at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Oklahoma and it's lessons with several audiences. Though most cannot relate to his physical experience, the emotion of his story connects with many.
At 93, he remembers the day with great clarity. He had been stationed at Pearl Harbor for less than a year when, after a lengthy drill, the Captain gave the off-duty crew port liberty. About 7:30 that Sunday morning, Dec. 7, Vezey and his roommate, Francis Charles Flaherty, were in their bunks trying to decide "if we should go swimming first and then eat breakfast or eat breakfast and then go swimming," Vezey said.
Suddenly, the loud speaker blared out, "All anti-aircraft personnel man your stations," he said. "All other hands go to your battle stations."
Irritated with a drill before 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, the two roommates decided to get dressed before continuing to their stations, he said. Vezey had taken off his pajama top when a young officer realized the urgency of the message had not gotten out.
"He picked up the microphone and resorted to 'Navy' language and some four letter words to make it very clear that the Japanese were attacking us," he said. "Almost simultaneously we took our first hit - a torpedo. Life suddenly became very real as we realized this was no drill."
The two rushed to their separate battle stations, Vezey in his pajama bottoms, a newly purchased cap and pair of shoes with his .45-caliber revolver.
"By the time I got topside, the ship was covered in oil and saltwater and was already listing quite a bit," he said. "By the time it had rolled over about 30 degrees or more, it was clear she was mortally wounded. I ordered my crews to abandon ship."
Vezey explained that abandon ship drills did nothing to prepare you for a rolling ship.
"When our sister ship, the USS Arizona, blew up behind us, I thought, 'This is no place to be,'" he said. "I followed the ship as we rolled, and I think I was unconscious as I hit the water."
He was hauled aboard the USS Maryland via rope, exhausted from swimming in the oil-covered water, he said. The ship's saltwater showers were opened for the sailors pulled from the water.
"The captain of the Maryland passed word over the speaker, 'If there are any survivors of the Oklahoma who would take one of my boats and go to the ammunition depot, we'd appreciate it,'" he said.
Vezey and almost 20 sailors took a boat to the ammunition depot approximately 11 miles up the channel.
Finding the depot abandoned and all of the ammunition locked, Vezey and his crew broke the locks, sent a boat of ammunition back to the Maryland and stayed as a working party for other ships needing to replenish their store, he said.
He served on two other ships after that.
The first was "the worst tramp steamer (merchant ship) in the Navy," but after contracting dysentery on a visit to Guadalcanal, he transferred to a flagship captained by Admiral Turner, he said. During this time, he had three major landing operations: the Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, and the Philippines. He was in Boston the day the war ended, he said.
Today, he operates using two 'themes' in life.
"The first is that life is one whale of an adventure, but don't let go when it tries to throw you off," Vezey said. "The second is to keep pedaling, or else the bike will fall over. This is fundamentally true in your health, your job skills, your marriage. If you stop pedaling, all of a sudden you discover life is passing you by."
Vezey takes his own advice and keeps active - working toward his goal of reaching 100 years of age. He walks on a treadmill each morning while talking to a painting he had commissioned of Medal of Honor recipient, Flaherty, he said.
Vezey's occupied an anti-aircraft battle station near the foremast while Flaherty was in a port behind about 10 inches of armor, said Vezey.
"His standing joke with me was, 'well Ed, when the aircraft attack comes, I'll be very nice and secure and warm in my place and after the battle is over, I'll get a couple of the guys and a couple of swabs and a bucket to clean up whatever's left of you,'" he said. "It didn't work out that way."
Vezey worked in the Navy for six years and worked for General Electric a total of 57 years after his time in service, enjoying the many opportunities that were offered, including a stint in Taiwan.
"People respect what you know," said Vezey. "Being the expert means you're always in demand."
However in demand he may be, he always makes time to return for each anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he said. He helped raise funds to put in the memorial to the Oklahoma crew: 429 markers for each casualty, with each casualty's name and rank marked on it.
"The Missouri is now anchored where the Oklahoma used to be," he said.
Only four veterans attended last year's anniversary, but "we (the veterans) decided as long as there's two of us to lift a glass, we'll be there."
He does not like to see people quit mentally and coast as they age, Vezey said.
"Life can be great if you don't quit," he said.