After 40 years, the cocky sailor talk and the reckless gait may have slowed a bit, but have never really left 11 surviving veterans of the Coast Guard cutter Taney who fired on Japanese planes on their way to attack Pearl Harbor 40 years ago today.
Yesterday the vets gathered aboard the Taney, the only naval vessel in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, still in service. Surrounded by television crews, they partook of a Sunday morning brunch and reminisced of duty and disaster.
"I was getting ready to relieve the 8-to-12 watch in the radio shack," recalled Gus J. Sondors of Alexandria, Va., when the Taney, anchored at Honolulu, received a message that the destroyer Ward had sunk a submarine nearby.
"We picked up a few more messages, and then we heard a lot of explosions coming from the Pearl Harbor area," Sondors said.
"A civilian radio station in Honolulu kept playing music, then battle stations sounded. I closed down the radio shack and grabbed my gas mask and helmet and went topside.
"Japanese planes were overhead, so we fired. But they were out of range, and we probably did more damage to the surrounding buildings with spent shells."
Yesterday morning's fare, served on metal trays, was good seagoing fare -- plain hamburgers, baked beans and french fries. The salad bar was mostly ignored.
Clifton Walton of Lenexa, Kan., who served on the Taney as a seaman 1st class, cut up his hamburger and poked at his beans. "We didn't get any breakfast that morning of the attack ," he said. "Toward noon someone came by with a big tub of oatmeal, but that's all we had until evening."
Third-class cook, Steven Sheffield from Boise, Idaho, stood behind his hot plates, ready to heap beans and french fries on the metal trays held in front of him.
"You can call me a 'subsistency specialist 3rd class,' " he offered. "I got up at 5:30 a.m. to cook breakfast and began this meal right after that."
Sheffield put on a false frown when a veteran's wife thanked him, but refused his beans.
Remarks like, "the Taney looks smaller and everyone looks younger," were batted about. "We had more guns than they have now," somebody put in. "I guess they just chase those pot smugglers."
After brunch, the ex-sailors, who will attend anniversary ceremonies today, were to set off for sightseeing around Washington. Meanwhile, the ship's company kept busy scrubbing and polishing for the commemoration.
The Taney, which is open to public inspection at the Washington Boat Line pier alongside Maine Avenue, had 1,100 visitors on Saturday and expected more yesterday.