VIDEO: Survivor recognized on 76th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack
Manchester — For at least 15 minutes, Floyd Welch thought it was a drill.
But why would there be drills on a Sunday?
It was, of course, not a drill, but a sudden and unexpected attack by the Japanese.
Welch, a third-class electrician with the U.S. Navy, had just finished showering and was getting ready for the church service on his battleship, the USS Maryland, when just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes began bombing Pearl Harbor.
Reportedly Connecticut's oldest surviving Pearl Harbor veteran, Welch, 96, of East Lyme, and other World War II vets were honored during a luncheon Thursday, which President Donald Trump proclaimed as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, at the Manchester Elks Lodge. The event's primary sponsor was Johnson Brunetti Retirement and Investment Specialists, and veterans in attendance were provided with a warm meal, clothing and personal care items.
"It's something like this that brings us together," said Welch, noting the dwindling population of World War II vets and related organizations.
This time last year, Welch was one of roughly 150 Pearl Harbor survivors who were in Hawaii to attend 75th anniversary commemoration events, when he had a chance encounter with another member of his crew.
Like Welch, the vets in the room Thursday experienced in person what the rest of the world saw and read about in the news.
Welch was below the deck on the Maryland when the bombs dropped. As his head came above deck, "there was the (USS) Oklahoma, bottom side up," he said, adding he could clearly see one of the battleship's propellers.
Welch's ship was moored alongside the Oklahoma, which provided some protection from the torpedoes. As many as nine torpedoes reportedly hit the Oklahoma, which capsized. The torpedoes opened the fuel tanks on the sides of the ship, spilling large amounts of oil, which then caught fire. Welch helped pull men out of the fiery water.
Welch and his wife of 71 years, Marjorie, both wore necklaces — or, in Welch's case, a bolo tie — with a pendant made out of teakwood from the quarterdeck of the USS Maryland. Welch served on Maryland for the six years he was in the Navy, and "until it never made another trip on its own power." It was decommissioned on April 3, 1947.
"It was my home for six years. A year and a half before Pearl Harbor and right up until they broke it up down across the bay from San Francisco," said Welch, standing to stay a few words before the crowd. "I just appreciated being able to do my job."
After the Navy, Welch wanted to own a farm, get married and raise a family. "It sounded like a good idea," his wife said, noting they had "a herd of cows and a herd of kids."
The couple had six children: four girls and two boys. Their youngest, Brian Welch, and his wife, Sarah, were at the luncheon.