As the United States marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a 99-year-old local veteran reflects on the tragic events of that day, saying he feared he would not make it out alive.
Today, Rodney Bittner lives at the Friendship Retirement Community. He loves to cook, often baking cookies and corn muffins for friends and neighbors.
“If I had some muffins that were good, I’d give you some of the muffins,” he laughed. “I don’t have any.”
Bittner was training for a career in medicine when he enlisted in the Navy Reserve. He arrived at Pearl Harbor just two days before the attack.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, he saw bombs falling on Hickam Field, at first not realizing it was an attack.
“I turned around and I said, ‘Looks like they’re practicing bombing,’ and then [officials] immediately sounded, ‘general quarters,'” Bittner said.
Bittner was aboard the USS Vestal below deck and helped treat the wounded. The USS Arizona was the next ship over, where half the deaths occurred that day.
“I’ve always thought you get scared before you get brave,” he said. “You think, ‘What’s the use of being scared when there isn’t anything you can do?’ But maybe you can do something else.”
Once the attack was over, Bittner said, he and others were worried more was to come.
“It was always in my mind and everybody else’s mind they’ll be back, they’ll be back, they’ll be back,” he said.
Bittner said in the end, he left Pearl Harbor with only a bad leg. These days, the attack is not in the forefront of his thoughts, he added, but he has written a memoir about the war for his grandchildren.
“I just thank the good Lord I’m going as long as I’ve been going,” Bittner said. “I don’t know how long He wants me to stay here on Earth. I think I’ll stay here – I’ll make corn muffins until I die.”