HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ewalt Shatz was 17-years-old when he enlisted in the Navy and just 18 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. 72 years later, he says he remembers most of it clearly.
"Like Roosevelt said, it'll last forever – the story of this attack – and we should never forget it," said Shatz.
Shatz says December 7, 1941 started out as any other day aboard the USS Patterson, until he noticed something in the distance.
"I happened to look over to North [Ford] Island and I saw this building that just kind of – all of a sudden it was just getting bigger and bigger. It was just exploding," described Shatz.
He says that's when he and others spotted a Japanese plane flying above them and sprung into action.
"Guys were running down there telling everybody to get up out of bed because we were being attacked, and everybody just thought they were joking. They paid no attention 'til the first guns started firing," explained Shatz, who was behind one of those 50-caliber machine guns.
"I'd never fired that gun until that day," recalled Shatz, who says he knew how to operate it because he had done dry runs without ammunition.
"As long as I kept shooting that machine gun, I was fine. I mean, I was calm, but as soon as I stopped I got scared," Shatz described.
Shatz says he simply had reported to his general quarter's station, but there were no gunner's mates around – so he started firing away. Just last year, during a Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony at the USS Arizona, he was heralded with shooting down a Japanese plane.
"Well, I don't know about that," Shatz said, smiling shyly. "It's possible I did shoot at some planes, but whether I hit any or not that's another story. I don't take any credit for any of that."
Shatz humbly shrugs off any suggestion he's a World War II hero.
"No, I'm not a hero. I was just there. I just happened to be there, just like if you were there – that's what you would do. When you have something to do, you just do it and that's what I did like everybody else on the ship," Shatz said.
The 90-year-old says he's proud of the men and women serving today, but doesn't give much thought to the legacy he played an important role in.
"I'm just trying to survive, that's about it. As far as leaving anything behind or anybody – no, I'm just trying to survive," Shatz said.
This is the fourth year Shatz has traveled to Hawai'i for the remembrance ceremony at Pearl Harbor, but getting here this time wasn't that easy.
Shatz was on his way to Hawai'i Wednesday when he was bumped from his United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu because he was told the plane was overweight.
According to Shatz, he explained to United employees that he was on his way to the USS Arizona memorial to mark the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but still wasn't allowed to board.
"I thought that they just overbooked the deal and they were trying to get rid of a couple of customers and somebody had my seat -- and that's what made me mad, because I paid for that seat. I paid for that seat and somebody else is sitting in it," said Shatz.
United Airlines issued the following statement to Hawaii News Now:
Thanks for reaching out. Inclement weather in the path of United flight 1226 required the flight to carry additional fuel and, as a result, reduce the number of passengers on board by 41. United agents in Los Angeles rebooked those customers, including Mr. Shatz, on the best available alternate flights on United and other airlines. We look forward to speaking with Mr. Shatz and the other affected customers.
Shatz says he hasn't heard from United since, but never plans to travel with them again.
Instead, he's looking forward to Saturday's ceremony and says he's hoping to run into a buddy he used to play cards with every week for 20 years.
Shatz, who served 6 years in the Navy, says he knows there will be fewer familiar faces in the crowd. According to the association he's a member of, 60 fellow Pearl Harbor survivors have died this past year.
"I think it's a great day and I like to come out. I would like to continue it as long as I'm healthy and I can make it over here," Shatz said with a smile.