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Pearl Harbor survivor
recalls fateful attack
Stan Kotovsky was aboard USS St. Louis 71 years ago.
Las Cruces, NM: December 7, 2012.
After 71 years, the sudden and graphic shift from peace to war remains on the mind of Navy veteran Stan Kotovsky.
He was 19 then, and awoke early that fateful morning. He bought a Sunday newspaper, then sat in the transmitter room aboard the USS St. Louis, enjoying the Honolulu headlines with his feet up.
"All of the sudden I hear these explosions, and I'm thinking, 'What are those dumb Marines doing out there?'" Kotovsky said after speaking at a Pearl Harbor Day Memorial ceremony Friday morning. "It was a couple of these before I realized it wasn't that. I ran out on the deck and realized the war had started.
Kotovsky, 90, earned his ham radio license in high school. The military had a high demand for radio operators then, and he saw the Navy as a chance to see the world - before that, Kotovsky hadn't ventured far outside of his small Missouri hometown.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Las Crucen had a box seat to one of the most historic and horrific days in American history.
Said Kotovsky to the Friday morning crowd at Veterans Memorial Park: "We're at peace and the next moment, we're fighting for our very lives. ... It was unbelievable."
According to Naval Historical Center, the USS St. Louis was the first major vessel to reach open water after the attack. The fiery carnage played out in front of him as his ship sped toward the Pacific.
A radio operator, Kotovsky hurried to set up an antenna on the ship's yardarm rigging "so we could have communications," he said. Kotovsky saw Japanese torpedoes fired at his ship hit nearby coral reef.
Kotovsky punctuated his short talk as he regularly does when talking about his experiences.
"Remember Pearl Harbor," he said. "Keep America strong. And, above all, support our men and women in the armed forces."
That message certainly wasn't lost on the people at Friday's ceremony, which included the raising of the Garrison Flag. Many of those in attendance were veterans, including a handful that served in World War II. There was also one other Pearl Harbor survivor, Archie Luce.
A pair of WWII vintage aircraft from Santa Teresa's War Eagles Museum made two passes over the memorial.
Simon Mendoza, 90, was another veteran in attendance. He enjoyed the brief ceremony, reflecting on his experiences as he dunked a cookie into his coffee cup.
"It's a wonderful thing," he said, referring to Friday's commemoration. But, he added, "It's pretty sad to me because I remember my friends that I lost in the war."