LA MESA -- The City Council turned back time Tuesday to Dec. 7, 1941, when then 17-year-old Jack Evans was in Pearl Harbor, standing watch in the crow's nest of the USS Tennessee.
Evans watched as Japanese planes strafed and bombed, hitting the Tennessee beneath him and sending shrapnel up and into his legs.
Evans, now 86 and living on Lake Murray Boulevard in La Mesa, was one of more than a dozen Pearl Harbor survivors who gathered to be honored by the council members for events that occurred 69 years ago.
"I have a purple heart from that day,'' Evans said Tuesday, "but the truth is I didn't even feel it at the time. Adrenalin does that you know.''
Evans and his fellow survivors received an official commendation from La Mesa and a proclamation from Rep. Duncan Hunter's office. The honor was part of several actions the council is taking to honor veterans. Each of the survivors told of having experienced losses of fellow sailors in recent years as age accomplished what Japanese bombs and bullets failed to do nearly seven decades ago.
Friendships forged under fire and at the heart of such an historic battle, seemed to have been a constant even in lives that quickly branched out into non-military careers after World War II.
Evans, for example, went on to fly and fight in Korea and Vietnam in a 33-year military career which included time at helm of his own ammunition ship. Still, at 86 and long retired from the military, it is still the Pearl Harbor hat with the Purple Heart attached, that has defined his veteran status -- a long day that had to have been shocking for a youth of just 17 years of age.
"The Tennessee was badly damaged but not destroyed,'' Evans recalls, and then he adds with pride: "We had her underway by Dec. 20th and heading to Bremerton, Washington, for repairs.''
Well into their 80s and beyond, the Pearl Harbor survivors clearly enjoy each others' company, at times acting like the very young men they were in 1941. At one point in Tuesday's ceremony a young aide to Congressman Hunter finished handing out awards and turned to look for a seat among the survivors.
"You can sit on my lap!'' one survivor told her as fellow sailors chimed in with appreciation for his offer.
Eighty-six year old Evans, who not long ago married for a second time, leaned over at one point and revealed the number of years younger than he his new wife is (13).
"I met her in a bereavement group,'' he said.
It was as if this group of sailors, perhaps because they had seen death at such an early age, were going to pursue all that life has to offer for as long as they can.
The council also updated the community to designate the portion of Fletcher Parkway in La Mesa as Veterans Memorial Parkway with signs honoring veterans from all branches of the military.
Work to fund and build signs for the designation is currently underway.