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Jay Holmes, 79, was a 19-year-old Marine orderly on the USS West Virginia. Following Pearl Harbor, he went on to fight in the Palau Islands in 1944. He also participated in the U.S. occupation of Nagasaki after the atom bomb was dropped.

DURING THE ATTACK, you did a little bit of praying while you tried to keep your eyes open to see what was going on around you. All the smoke was very thick, and the water was on fire from the oil. You couldn’t see much. But we knew from the torpedoes that we’d been hit—every time one would hit, smack, everything moved—and we knew we were in dire straits. And because of damage control, we ended up sitting right flat on the bottom, straight up and down, which is an amazing feat, I thought.

I figured that if anyone attacked us, it would probably be the Japanese. Since we were in the Pacific, we weren’t going to be attacked by the Germans. And we had been selling scrap metal for 20 years to the Japanese. I think everybody had the feeling, at that point, that we would end up in war. In January 1941, when we left Long Beach, Calif., for Pearl Harbor, we hadn’t gone five or 10 miles when the skipper said, “I want to make you all aware of the fact that from this day forward, the West Virginia will be under darkened ship.” That meant movies and other activities at nighttime would all be below deck. No lights.

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