JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Spending an entire day in the scorching sun is not the way most 89-year-olds spend their birthday; however, Buck Morris, a Lowcountry native, is not your typical 89-year-old.
Attending this year's Charleston Air Expo 2011 meant more to Mr. Morris than just the aura and flare of modern air superiority; it was a time of reflection, remembrance and reverence. While most spectators had come to marvel at the awe-inspiring magnificence of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the main attraction for Mr. Morris was a demonstration from another era - one that gave this country the freedoms it has today.
As a survivor of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, spending his 89th birthday watching the re-enactment of the events of that tragic day, the Commemorative Air Force's Tora! Tora! Tora! was a moment he will never forget. The memories the simulated battle stirred are remembered by only a small number of heroes. In fact, there are only an estimated 2,000-4,000 Pearl Harbor veterans alive today according to recent statistics.
Mr. Morris was a signalman on board the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Phelps, DD 360, when the Japanese aircraft attacked.
"When the attack came on Pearl Harbor we were right in the middle of the harbor, so we saw it all," Mr. Morris said. "Luckily we didn't get hit; we were one of the few survivors."
Amazingly, his ship was able to escape the attacks virtually unscathed. They were able to get under way and put out to sea quickly; however, like 90 percent of the ships in the harbor, they went without their captain aboard, he said.
"It was turmoil first class around there that day," Mr. Morris said. "We didn't have time to get scared. When the attacks came, there was no waiting, it was go, go, go."
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and thanks to the Commemorative Air Force, spectators all around the country are able to get a small sense of what the men and women felt that day.
"I'm amazed at what I've seen here. So much has changed in aircraft and facilities," Mr. Morris said. "I just feel proud to be here, and it's a pleasure to be honored the way I have been."
Mr. Morris came to the Air Expo along with a number of family members, including his two sons.
"He had a great time, we all had a great time," said Bucky Morris, one of Mr. Morris' sons. "The public reception of him was amazing. Both young and old alike saw his Pearl Harbor survivor hat and wanted to come up and shake his hand. It was a very moving day for him."
His presence was just a reminder to all those who saw him that freedom is never free. Tora! Tora! Tora! keeps their spirits alive, lest we should forget what America's Greatest Generation did for our freedoms.