Seventy-five years ago, Victor "Vic" Hergett was there at Pearl Harbor.
He was in the U.S. Navy and witnessed the destruction inflicted by the Japanese when they bombed Hawaii. And what he saw rattled him, even nearly three-quarters of a century later.
He didn't talk much to friends or even family about what he saw. But in 2010, one of his great-grandchildren needed an essay for Veterans Day, so Hergett, a native of Park City, dictated a few memories to his daughter, Cheryl Horning. It was the first time even she'd heard the stories.
The following are Hergett's memories of witnessing the Pearl Harbor bombings:
"At seventeen, I was tired of this life and wanted to get out and see the world, so I joined the Navy. My dad was not happy with this decision and in order to get his consent, I had to agree to send money home to help pay for hired help that would replace me (on the farm).
"The registrar who handled my enlistment said a blessing for me as he felt I was so young. The journey from Billings to Salt Lake City for the swearing in ceremony took two days and I was committed for a six-year hitch — Nov. 8, 1939 to Nov. 8, 1945.
"After three rigorous months of training I was assigned to the the Battleship USS Maryland which was docked at San Diego, Calif., and we joined the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
"The next two years were peace years and filled with new adventures and meeting people from every state in the union. It was an exciting time and quite an experience for a farm boy from Montana.
"Then came word of Japanese aggression in the Pacific which was followed by constant war maneuvers — month after month. We were playing war games which meant drills and more drills. However, we still weren't prepared for the disaster that took place on that fateful day, Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.
"It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining. About 7:50 a.m., I was returning to my quarters after eating breakfast when we were attacked. The main target was Battleship Row where all our ships were anchored two by two along the pier. We were sitting ducks. I spent the entire battle at my station below deck in the boiler room. I heard the ruckus and commotion of the guns and bombs but had little idea what was taking place topside.
"Around 10 a.m., after the Japanese left the scene, fire and rescue were ordered and I volunteered to fight the fires on the USS West Virginia. It was the first time I witnessed the terrible chaos and destruction all around the harbor. The sight of the wounded, maimed and burned victims still haunts me to this day. We were to pick up survivors on our launch and when one of the sailors started to pull up a survivor, he immediately dropped him back, remarking that he was dead and we were only supposed to pick up live ones. That scene will live with me forever.
"When we boarded the West Virginia and opened the hatches, sailors who had died from drowning floated out.
"In the weeks that followed there was a tremendous effort to raise and repair our losses. My ship had a huge hole in the bow, but we couldn't move as the Oklahoma had rolled over and pinned us against the dock. It was a huge undertaking to move her over a few feet so we could get our and get repaired at an adjacent dock.
"After that came island hopping — Tarawa; Gilbert; Marshall. I had very little leave time in that period — 32 days in six years and I was not even able to attend my mother's funeral when she died in 1942. I left the Maryland in November 1943 and my new assignment was the Alkes, a cargo supply shop built by Kaiser Shipyards. We made 11 trips across the Pacific following the invading Army and Marines.
"We were on our way back to Pearl Harbor to reload and plan for the actual invasion of Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a wonderful day when I could remove my life preserver, which had been a part of me for so many days.
"The day I was discharged, the captain asked me to re-up and reminded me of the six years I had already put in. My remark to him was that after being at sea for five years and four months out of those six years, I was not about to ship over.
"Back to civilian life, I arrived home two days before the birth of my first child."
Hergett died July 8, 2015.
Horning said her father was "patriotic to the core," never missing flying his flag for holidays, but was incredibly reticent about sharing his stories and experiences.
"He wrote the information (in 2010), but said he would never write or talk about it again," Horning said. "And he didn't."
"One thing that Dad did tell us but is not mentioned is that there was so much chaos and panic that morning that many lives were lost unnecessarily. Men jumped into the water away from port side and the water was so hot from all the burning oil that many of them perished from their burns or drowned," Horning said.
Hergett returned to Pearl Harbor for the first and only time in January 1975.
"My mother told us that after visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, dad had terrible flashbacks and nightmares again," Horning said.
Hergett was a charter member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, active in the VFW and American Legion. He participated in Big Sky Honor Flight in July 2012.
Yet he never returned to Hawaii after 1975.
"My dad felt so fortunate that he was one of the men that returned home when many didn't and he use to say that the Maryland had been such good karma for him, that was the reason he built a home and raised his family on Maryland Lane in Laurel," Horning said.