As Christmas trees go up and presents go under them, the country will pause to remember a day that lived infamy, the attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the U.S. into WWII on Dec. 7, 1941.
On his way back from breakfast on that fateful December morning, Henry “Hank” Heim heard a deafening crash.
“[My friend] asked me, ‘what in the heck was that,’ and I said, ‘it sounds like an airplane crash,'” Heim said.
When he looked outside, he was greeted with Japanese fighter fire.
“I threw myself up against the side and the bullets grazed right by me,” Heim said.
A few years ago, accompanied by his wife, Heim returned to that same spot on base where he found refuge.
“I wanted to see if the bullet holes were still there, and I looked over and there they were,” Heim said.
He avoided the gunfire, but as he ran out to defend the base, he was thrown 20 feet in an explosion. His face and jaw were bloodied, but he refused to abandon his brothers.
“I set up a machine gun out in the open. I had bullets going by me fairly close, and I was just mad,” Heim said.
He was “mad,” to some, maybe, but for Charlie Lloyd, who is vice president of the Central Pennsylvania WWII Roundtable, the only word to describe Heim is “brave.”
“The average lifespan of a B-17 crew member was nine missions. He flew all 50 and went back and flew another 28,” Lloyd said.
At 97, memories can fade, but not Heim’s — not of that day.
“It was awful. You had people running in all directions, and they sprayed them, and you could see them fall,” Heim said.
Heim was highly decorated and is part of a shrinking greatest generation that helped free the world.
“Thank you,” seems too little, but Heim says it’s too much.
“I felt so wonderful that I was able to serve my country,” he said.