Thomas Pinson, of Petoskey, and his wife, Shirley can still clearly remember Dec. 7, 1941. The day changed their lives, changed America and changed the entire course of world history.
Many young people today may not be aware that on that day in 1941, Japanese forces attacked a United States Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 Americans and damaging eight U.S. Navy battleships.
Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan and the U.S. entered into the brutal conflict of World War II.
Thomas and Shirley, now 91 and 88, were courting at the time, young and in love. He was a recently enlisted Air Force pilot trainee and she was in high school.
Shirley heard of the attack on the radio at her girlfriend's house "and I went running home," she said, "I was so shocked. I thought, 'This may change everything.'"
It was a Sunday, remembered Thomas, he and his buddy were going to his friend's grandmother's house when the music in the car stopped and the announcement came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese.
Fresh out of high school, he had joined the military with hopes of serving in the war against Germany. But, America refrained from entering the conflict in its early years.
"I thought, 'dollars to doughnuts, we'll be in it within a year,'" he said, after hearing the news.
While the attack on Pearl Harbor made the war in Europe and Asia personal to many Americans, an attack on home soil with many lives lost, Thomas had that personal interest in the safety of the Allied forces before Pearl Harbor.
His parents came to the United States from England a few years before he was born and he had an aunt and uncle in England during the German invasion.
He knew from a fairly young age "I wanted to enlist and fly spit fires against the Germans," he said.
And that's exactly what he did.
After nearly five years of training and education, he was deployed to England in 1945. But, the Allied forces had moved on to fight Hitler's army elsewhere.
"I was determined I was going to go into combat," said Thomas.
By then, he and Shirley were married and she was pregnant with their daughter. They communicated by letters and telegrams, but he was unable to learn his daughter's name until almost a month after she was born.
He followed his company, the 406 fighter group, first to Belgium, then France and Germany.
He flew all sorts of bombers, P-40s, P-47s, F-6s, and his group of pilots served in many major battles, "Following Patton around Europe," he said.
Thomas related that he quickly realized a large number of the pilots he flew with would be killed in crashes during training and many more who made it to war would never return.
He remembered entire squads of pilots that would leave their base in Europe and never make it back.
There were missions where they had to bomb barracks just a few hundred feet from hospitals filled with civilians. They bombed bridges, military bases and even, once, a hospital hiding a large store of ammunition. He sometimes had to fly planes that he hadn't been trained to operate.
The attack on Pearl Harbor may not be as fresh in Americans' memories as the recent attacks on the United States in 2001 and subsequent wars. But, there are still those who remember vividly, like the Pinsons, the day it happened and the ripple effect of how their individual lives were affected and how the course of history was altered by the events that day.
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