Veterans Voices: Rod Bittner, Pearl Harbor survivor, shares his story

Digital Originals

SALEM, Va. (WFXR) — Local veteran, Rod Bittner, a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, shares his story.

December 7th, 1941. Mr. Bittner remembered the day vividly.

In a surprise attack, the Japanese bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 service members, wounding 1,178 people, and destroying six U.S. ships, along with169 U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps planes.

“I can remember several things. I guess one thing I do remember is I went to the fantail of the ship and I said to myself, ‘I hope the good Lord gets me through this and I won’t die here,” said Mr. Bittner.

Originally from Takoma, Washington, Bittner enlisted in World War II back in 1940. After working as a medical technologist in Bremerton and several months of training at Gray Harbor in Washington, Mr. Bittner was transferred to a supply ship in Oregon that was taking a dredge to Honolulu.

This ship, otherwise known as the USS Vestal, was one of the vessels in Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack.

Mr. Bittner recalls the attack, saying, “You know, you sit there watching the bombers go by. I’m certainly not on a battleship, but everything out there, they’re aiming for . . . My job was to pacify the people that had been bombed.”

The Vestal was hit with a 500-pound bomb. Shortly thereafter, another bomb dropped, and Mr. Bittner had to break the tethers to the USS Arizona, as his commander attempted to run the ship aground.

“And then the executive officer made an announcement over the speaker, she said, ‘I want everybody that can save themselves to jump in the water and swim to safety . . . We were all supposed to have stations we would go to…one of the officers mentioned, ‘do you remember the cook we had? He’s underneath a settee which is glued down to the floor. And he was asking somebody, please help me out from this thing” 

Rod Bittner, Pearl Harbor Survivor, WWII Medical Technologist

Following the attack, it took a blow torch to get the man out. Mr. Bittner was assigned to the medical area to help the wounded. 

He went on to serve in the Navy for four more years and later retired to the Roanoke area.

Mr. Bittner passed away on January 1st of this year. His years of service and sacrifice for his country will not be forgotten. 

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