Pearl Harbor Survivor Clung to Coral to Survive Attacks

Veteran recalls the infamous day 70 years ago

By Lea Sutton
|  Thursday, Dec 8, 2011  |  Updated 7:07 AM PDT
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Pearl Harbor Survivor, Elder Abuse Victim

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American ships burn during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Pearl Harbor Survivor Recalls Attack

Seventy years after the Pearl Harbor attacks, Robert Ruffato remembers the sound underwater, as the bullets hit and then sizzled past his head.
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Robert Ruffato was eighteen years old on December 7, 1941.

He had less than a year in the Navy.

Seventy years later, he remembers that sound underwater, as the bullets hit and then sizzled past his head.

"You could hear the bullets hitting the water and they'd go about 3 feet and then they'd start sinking Now I didn't know bullets were hot when they came out of a gun - but they're hot - cause you could hear them sizzle as they went by your head down there," Ruffato said.

Robert Ruffato remembers diving deep into the water, holding on to coral to avoid being hit as the Japanese strafed from above.

He had been on the Utah and looked out a port hole as a plane pulled off a bombing dive.

"He pulled up right over the Utah and I could see that big old red ball on his wings so that's when we knew we were in trouble,” Ruffato said of the attacks.

Utah was hit by torpedoes and a five hundred pound bomb.

Mass confusion followed. Sailors in rooms where torpedoes hit tried to get above deck while other sailors rushed down to their bombing quarters below.

Ruffato went topside but the Japanese were strafing with machine guns.

When the strafing relented, he swam to shore.

He shot at Japanese planes with an old rifle, and then drove to the other side of Ford Island for medical supplies.

It almost cost him his life.

Passing the airfield, he saw two planes he thought were coming in to land.

"I thought 'why are they turning their lights on - but they weren't turning their lights on - they were machine gunning my truck," he recalled.

Dodging bullets, Robert made it back with the supplies, but he lost many fellow sailors that day. One whispered his last words to him.

He says surviving Pearl Harbor put life in perspective.

"I get kind of down and I say, ‘buck up bob, you could have been killed in Pearl Harbor.’"

Robert told me he joined the crew of the USS Honolulu that same day.

He went on to serve in nine major engagements - including the battle of Guadalcanal.

Robert and his wife raised six children here in San Diego. He now has ten grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. He lives on Mission Bay and stays active in the veteran community.


 

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