Pearl Harbor Survivor Recalls Attack

Robert Ruffato was on USS Utah when he realized Pearl Harbor was under attack on Dec. 7, 1941

By Lea Sutton and R. Stickney
|  Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011  |  Updated 1:15 PM PDT
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Pearl Harbor Survivor Recalls Attack

AP

The USS Utah Memorial is seen before the start of an internment ceremony for Pearl Harbor survivor Lee Soucy, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011 in Honolulu. Soucy, who died last year at the age of 90, wanted to have his ashes interred inside the USS Utah, his ship that sank during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 7, 1941. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Seventy years after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, one San Diego man can still remember the sound of bullets whizzing past him underwater as he dove for his life.

Robert Ruffato had been on USS Utah when he looked out a porthole and spotted a plane on a bombing dive.

After his ship was hit and capsized, he jumped into the water, diving deep under the surface and hanging onto coral to avoid being hit.

"You could hear the bullets hitting the water and they'd go about 3 feet and then they'd start sinking,” Ruffato said.

“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."

USS 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 attacking with machine guns. When the attack relented, he swam to shore.

He shot at Japanese planes with an old rifle - 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.

Ruffato eventually made it back with the supplies but he lost many fellow sailors that day.

One whispered his last words to him.

For Ruffato, 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,’" he said.

Ruffato went on to serve in nine major engagements including the Battle of Guadalcanal.

He and his wife of 40 years raised six children here in San Diego. He now lives on Mission Bay and stays active in the veterans’ community.

Lea Sutton covers stories involving San Diego's military community. Send her your thoughts via Twitter @nbcsandiego or add your comment to our Facebook page.
Find more of her stories in our special military section.

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