Lydia Grant, 87, was 14 years old when she woke up at Pearl Harbor’s naval base on Dec. 7, 1941. She had been looking forward to that afternoon when a family friend and captain of the USS Arizona was going to give her a tour of the sprawling battleship.
But Grant never took that tour — she was awakened by loud noises and climbed up to the roof of the house where she was living and saw Japanese fighter planes swooping overhead.
“I said, ‘Wow, the maneuvers are really realistic.’ Being a dumb teenager, I didn’t realize that we were under attack,” Grant said.
She recounted her story to dozens of residents and veterans who gathered Sunday aboard the USS Kidd in downtown Baton Rouge to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on American forces in Hawaii. The memorial was held at 11:55 a.m. — the exact time of the attack in Louisiana’s central time zone.
More than 2,400 Americans were killed, including Franklin Van Valkenburgh, the Navy captain who had planned to give Grant the tour — and the USS Arizona was destroyed. Forty-five of those killed in Pearl Harbor were service members from Louisiana.
“It’s been a long time, but you don’t ever forget what you’ve seen, or heard, or lost,” Grant said after her speech.
Grant remembers watching the planes until her mother called her on the telephone and told her to run to an adjacent house. She then remembers darting across a yard with her family’s Japanese maid while machine guns fired overhead. They made it across the yard unhurt.
After the attack, she and her mother climbed aboard a ship headed to San Francisco while her stepfather — who survived the attack — stayed behind. Claude Gillette, her stepfather, was a U.S. naval admiral in charge of the Pearl Harbor shipyard.
When Grant and her mother arrived in San Francisco, she remembered nurses and ambulances lined up, waiting to provide care for the injured.
“I was never as glad to see anything as the Golden Gate Bridge,” she told the audience.
Another casualty aboard the USS Arizona was Rear Adm. Isaac C. Kidd, after whom the Baton Rouge-based vessel is named. The force of the bombs striking American Navy ships was so great that Kidd was incinerated instantly — and divers later found his class ring melted into the Arizona’s bulkhead, according to the Kidd’s ship superintendent, Tim NesSmith, who also spoke Sunday.
World War II veterans were in attendance Sunday, including 92-year-old Frank Masanz, who said he remembers hearing about Pearl Harbor on the radio while he was stationed as a seaman at a naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida.
“It felt like hell,” Masanz said. “All of us wondered where we were going now.”
The U.S. entered World War II soon after the attack.
Another service member from the time is John Wilbert Jr., of Plaquemine, now 88, who remembers almost every man in his high school entering the service. At the ceremony, he played taps with a bugle that he purchased in Baton Rouge when he was 12 years old.
“They were worried about me,” Wilbert said of his parents when he joined the military. “But it was a duty that all of us had to fill.”
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.