FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Pearl Harbor shocked a nation that wanted to stay out of the fighting in the Pacific and Europe. That all changed after the attack 75 years ago. Thousands enlisted and waited for their day to fight for their country.
For those who survived, their stories stayed with them.
Private Hugh Wallis was 17 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Fort Wayne native recalled what he went through like it happened yesterday.
“It really sets you a back,” Wallis said when asked what he thought about when he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Wallis was hanging out with friends at a filling station on that day.
“I guess at the time I was probably 17 years old,” Wallis said.
From there, Wallis waited. He waited eagerly until he was 18.
“When Congress lowered the draft age to 18 I was in the second draft from my home county,” Wallis said.
Wallis chose to become a paratrooper. He landed in North Africa, then started his journey that would eventually land him in Operation Market Garden in Holland. It was the largest airborne operation up to that point.
“The airplane flying, the left wing tip was shot down coming in,” Wallis said “All of us got out, but the pilot and copilot went down with it.”
Wallis hasn’t been back to the Netherlands since, but 65 years later he did get quite a random surprise. In 2011, he took an honor flight. His guardian, Nellie, was born in Holland.
“We’d meet somebody walking around the [WWII] Memorial and she’d say ‘he saved [Holland],'” Wallis said. “I’d say Nellie, I was just a small piece in a great big pond.”
A piece of a large puzzle he remembers this day and every day.
“This is something that just blows my mind,” he said.
Private Wallis came home with not one, but two Purple Hearts. One he got in Market Garden.