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One of the last Pearl Harbor survivors in Acadiana shares his story

Posted at 7:35 PM, Dec 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-07 21:07:27-05

December 7, 1941, still lives in infamy 77 years after the Pearl Harbor attack, and we are fortunate to hear from a Sunset man who was there.

“They were flying so low that they’d wave at me and smile,” recalled Joe Richard, who is one of the last Pearl Harbor survivors in Acadiana. “My mother went three months before she knew whether I was dead or alive.”

At 16-years-old, Richard volunteered to go to war and serve his country. He worked in the Navy as a ship welder. He was on the USS Rigel when the planes flew over and sunk the USS Arizona. The anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack is always a solemn day for him, but he still thinks about it every day.

The saddest part about my job,” he said as he began to swell with tears. “I had to try and get them people that were trapped. That was my job that we had to do.”

Richard had only been in Hawaii for a few months before his life was forever changed.

About 2,400 people died that day during Japan’s deadly attack on the U.S. naval base.

When he walked through the wreckage, Richard remembered hearing tapping noises.

He later realized it was men who were trapped and signaling for help but couldn’t be saved.

“We saved 33 of them, and we had to quit. You’d think in that many years you’d forget about it, but there’s not a day that goes by that I didn’t think of it, and I still do,” he said, taking a moment to collect the overwhelming emotions. “To know that they’re still there and that they’re going to be there forever. And, there’s nothing we could’ve done to save them. That’s sad; it’s sad.”

More than seven decades have passed, but the memories and pain of that day have never left him.

“We did what we had to, and they couldn’t have done any more than we did, even today,” he said.

But, he said he does not regret enlisting and doing his part.

“I’d do it again. We got to do it to keep this country safe.”