Pearl Harbor survivor: 'Guys on either side of me died, but somehow I survived'

At 90 years old, his body is frail and his voice is weak, yet as often as possible Swansea resident Chester Jankowski tells the story of what happened Dec. 7, 1941.

"It's important that people know the price of freedom," Jankowski said in a hoarse whisper. "It's important that they know what happened that day so it doesn't happen again. I like to talk to school kids about it whenever I can. But my voice is not too good these days."

Jankowski said the refrain "remember Pearl Harbor -- keep America alert" is just as important as ever because, as Sept. 11, 2001, proved, the United States remains vulnerable to attack. "So many people died in no time at all at Pearl Harbor. Things can happen so quickly."

Jankowski was a 19-year-old Navy fireman third class on the battleship USS Oklahoma 70 years ago today when Japanese bombers and torpedo planes attacked at 7:55 a.m.

He joined the Navy in early 1941 after graduating from high school. A six-year hitch in the military seemed like a good way to make a living. Little did he know he would soon be fighting to stay alive.

When torpedoes hit the Oklahoma, Jankowski was below decks working in the boiler room.

"We were awake and a lot of us were getting ready to go to shore for church services," Jankowski said. "I was going down a passageway when the torpedoes hit."

He dodged acetylene cylinders used for welding that rolled down the halls as he tried to work his way to his battle station. Then the lights flickered once before going out for good.

Suddenly lost in pitch black, Jankowski turned back to try to find a ladder to get up on deck. As he started to climb it was already tilted at a 45-degree angle as the ship started to capsize. Jankowski found his way topside just in time to crawl off the doomed ship as it keeled over.

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