Local Pearl Harbor Survivor Recalls Attack

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CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio

Bill Pitts is a man who has managed to beat incredible odds throughout his life.

"My friend woke me up and said, 'Bill wake up. The Japanese are attacking the harbor,' " he said. "I was going along, and someone yelled, 'Go undercover you goddamn fool.' "

Bill was one of thousands of military personnel stationed in Hawaii and the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago.

"They talk about it being a surprise visit. It wasn't," he said. "We had spent weeks before preparing."

Bill said many marines had bets as to when the war would start. He was off by just five days.

The Japanese attacks launched America into World War II, with moments the 92-year-old said he was lucky to survive.

"The planes were so low, I could see the keyboards," he said. "There was a woman that was flying the airplane, and she had a big grin on her face, like, oh, boy am I having fun."

Despite the attack, Bill said he wasn't afraid--up until his riskiest assignment.

"All lights were out. Windows, no lights anywhere. It was a blackout," he said. "I drove this semi-truck of ammo, and it was pitch black. The only incident I had... As I approached a bridge, I got right, just a little corner of it, just a little bit, to make me pull over."

But to make it to Hawaii was a considerable miracle in itself.

Bill said he was born premature, and the doctor did not expect him to survive. The named on his birth certificate reads "baby boy Pitts."

"They were worried about my mother's health," Bill said. "My aunt took me. She saved me. I am very, very lucky."

After the war, Bill served another 14 years in the Marines.

Bill later earned a master's degree at Case Western Reserve University and eventually met his wife, Geri.

He is retired but stays active with a number of service groups like the Cleveland Stroke Club, which he founded years ago.

Together, Bill and Geri have five children, 10 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Yet, Bill said the war has positively shaped his life.

"For me, it was a second home, a home away from home." he said. "It was interesting. We had a nice barracks there, a nice parade ground. It was beautiful."

Bill has visited Pearl Harbor a few times since his time in the service, but he said it's just one day in history--one day he hopes others will never forget.

"My philosophy is it's just one day," he said. "I never look back. I'm more interested in what's going to happen tomorrow, not what happened yesterday. "