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It was almost 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese dropped their first bombs. “We saw some airplanes coming in, but we didn’t pay any attention to them because we thought they were ours and it was going to be a drill,” says Richard Fiske, then a 19-year-old bugler aboard the USS West Virginia.

The PLANES CIRCLED OVER Honolulu, Fiske recalls, then turned toward the channel where the battleships were lined up along Ford Island. “We all just watched as they dropped their torpedoes,” he says. Suddenly the entire harbor erupted into chaos. Fiske stood close by and watched his captain die after being pierced by flying shrapnel. Moments later, the USS Arizona, moored near the West Virginia, exploded into a giant ball of flame. Men were scrambling everywhere to put out fires and to save their comrades and themselves. After a short reprieve, a second wave of Japanese fighters attacked at about 8:30 a.m. Only two hours later, the bombing was over. The Americans had paid a heavy price: 2,403 were dead—including 68 civilians—and 1,178 wounded; 21 American ships were either sunk or damaged, and 347 airplanes had been damaged or destroyed. Amazingly, all but three ships were eventually repaired. The six men below were all aboard battleships and witnessed the attack firsthand. Here are their stories.

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