SEBRING When Rayford Crocker was growing up in Indiana, 12 miles south of Notre Dame's golden dome, it was his father's custom to listen to the radio on Sundays.
"One morning, he turned around and asked me, 'Where's Pearl Harbor?'"
Crocker had finished the year before at Niles High School, but few Americans knew the answer to the question that would be asked by so many on Dec. 7, 1941.
"The Japs just bombed it," Crocker's father said.
Something else that Crocker didn't know at that moment: one of his high school friends was serving aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.
At 7:53 a.m., Japanese fighter planes surprised the U.S. Naval base at Hawaii. A second Great War began for America.
The first wave of Japanese bombers targeted airfields and battleships. The second sortie in the two-hour assault hit more shipyards. Eight battleships were damaged, five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels were lost, along with 188 aircraft. Americans shot down just 27 planes.
"I was living in Viscalia," said Peter Semper. Now a city of 124,000, it's in California's San Joaquin Valley, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"A school chum and I went out to the Indian caves, and we'd spent the day and had a picnic. We heard someone shooting a rifle like crazy, and we scrambled down the mountain," Semper said. A farmer informed the boys that America was at war.
"A lot of people in town still hadn't heard the news," Semper said.
On Monday, Dec. 8, the president appeared before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Japan, calling the previous day "...a date which will live in infamy..."
Semper's parents were confused and scared; they didn't know what would happen. Americans were required to blacken the top half of automobile headlights, and to black out their home windows so invading airplanes would have no guiding lights.
"It was a terrible, terrible shock to all of us," Semper said. "And for America. The air-raid sirens would go off at night. It was spooky, just like a movie."
"They didn't realize the possibility of the Japanese invading California was pretty remote," Semper said. Apparently the U.S. government was having the same thoughts though, because all Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.
Five months later, his mother and father got jobs at the Kasier Shipyards in San Francisco; Semper joined the Sea Scouts.
"It was like the Boy Scouts, but we fooled around on the ocean and lakes," Semper recalled. "It was very appropriate during World War II, and I got to wear a little uniform. We had a 30-foot sailboat and power boat, and they had training. We'd camp overnight."
"In 1941, I was 10 years old and living in South Carolina with my parents," said Thyra Robinson, now of Lake Placid. "We had gone to collect holly boughs to decorate for Christmas. When we returned home my brother, Forrest, told us of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"My family knew that my brother, Thomas, was at Pearl Harbor," Robinson said. "He was in the Navy, serving on the cruiser U.S.S. St. Louis. We didn't hear from him for several weeks after the attack. He told us later that his ship was the first one out of the harbor."
Now an 87-year-old retired farmer from South Dakota, Herman Meyer was a mechanic aboard a troop ship with the 1st Calvary Division in Tokyo Bay on that gray and somber Sept. 2, 1945. He was still too young to join the military after Pearl Harbor, he repaired Jeeps and armored vehicles.
In July 1945, America demanded surrender, or Japan would be promptly and utterly destroyed. The emperor ignored the threat. On Aug. 6, America horribly repaid the Nipponese for its surprise attack with the Little Boy atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Japan still didn't surrender. On Aug. 9, Fat Man leveled Nagasaki.
"We didn't know whether they'd surrender or not. We went over the side on rope ladders," Meyer said. "If they hadn't surrendered, we would have invaded Tokyo, we wouldn't have gotten out of the water. They were well fortified. And I wouldn't be there today. But I was happy. Happy."
Seven decades later, Japanese is America's ally.
"A few years ago, we were visiting our son, who was in the Navy and based at Honolulu," Robinson said. "We visited the USS Arizona Memorial, and saw the scars on the hangars where the bullets struck. I was surprised at how many visitors to the Arizona Memorial were Japanese."
Jo and Rayford Crocker met in 1988 and now live on Pinecrest Golf Course in Avon Park.
"I still have a thing about Japanese," Jo Crocker said. "I can't quite forget about that."
Nor can Rayford Crocker. When they honeymooned at Pearl Harbor, a few years ago, they gravitated to Pearl Harbor and the National Park Service memorial for the sunken Arizona.
His friend, Seaman First Class Frederick Purdy Amon, had been aboard when the battleship went down.
"You walk into the room and there's a granite wall with the names of those trapped there," Rayford Crocker said. "They're listed in alphabetical order. The first name is Frederick Amon, who I played football with."