Howard Hayes stepped from the gangplank onto the deck of the Coast Guard cutter Taney. The last time he was aboard the ship was more than 70 years ago.
Hayes, 96, is the last known surviving veteran of the cutter's crew from the attack on Pearl Harbor. He usually served as a cook, but when the alarm sounded on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Hayes was thrust into combat. His battle station was high above the decks manning a range finder to target incoming Japanese planes.
"You run, I'm telling you," Hayes said. "You look at your feet and say, 'What are you waiting for?'"
Now tied at Pier 5 in the Inner Harbor as one of the Historic Ships in Baltimore, the Taney engaged the attacking Japanese planes, and Hayes remembered being able to practically wave at the enemy pilots as they passed overhead.
"I was up there waving at the Japanese," he said.
The Taney, which was moored a short distance away in Honolulu rather than in Pearl Harbor, escaped the attack unscathed, but the toll on the American forces was heavy, with numerous large ships sunk or badly damaged.
"They were sitting ducks," Hayes recalled.
The surprise assault on the Pacific fleet brought the United States into World War II, during which the Taney served in both the Pacific and the Atlantic, patrolling for submarines, escorting convoys and functioning as a command ship.
Hayes enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1940 and served throughout the war but left once it was over, he said, despite the pleas of his commanders that he remain in the service. He knew nothing about cooking when he joined, but the Coast Guard trained him and he took to the work.
Hayes had long hoped to return to the Taney, which was organized by Honor Flight Nevada, a group that arranges for veterans to visit the national war memorials in Washington.
"I've been looking forward to this longer than you've been in service," Hayes told young Coast Guard public affairs officers who had come to record his trip.
After the war, the Taney remained in service until 1986, when it was given to Baltimore as a museum ship. As Hayes wandered the decks Friday morning, he pointed out all the things that had changed since he had last seen the cutter.
The decks were made of teak back then and the rear deck was covered with a canvas so the crew could watch movies, Hayes said.
The kitchen, where Hayes spent much of his time, is now laid out completely differently, but Hayes could remember the griddle in the back where he cooked pancakes and where an ice cream maker had been located. The crew could cook up pretty much any dish, Hayes said, and they baked their own bread.
"They've changed so much on the ship," Hayes said. "It's unbelievable. ... The galley's completely changed."
But despite all the alterations, Hayes said he was pleased to have made it back to the Taney one last time.
"I'll remember it for a long time," he said.