A Father's Story of Pearl Harbor - WBAY

A Father's Story of Pearl Harbor

From left: Allan, Bernie, and Brian Duchateau From left: Allan, Bernie, and Brian Duchateau

Eighteen Pearl Harbor survivors living in Wisconsin completed a trip of a lifetime. More than 70 years after that deadly attack, they took an Old Glory Honor Flight back to Hawaii.

As emotional as this trip back to Pearl Harbor was for these veterans, who are now in their 80s and 90s, it was equally emotional for the guardians who traveled with them.

For Green Bay veteran Bernie Duchateau, it was a chance to re-live his story for the first time with his son and grandson.

"It is history. It is American history," son Allen Duchateau said.

It's hard to tell who's prouder on this Father's Day in Hawaii.

"What Grandpa did then was pretty important, not only for me and him and the family but for the nation as a whole," grandson Brian Duchateau said.

Like every Pearl Harbor survivor, Bernie Duchateau has quite a story. His begins on the USS Dale, a destroyer, in November, 1941.

"We had a submarine on the outside of the harbor," he recalls, "and the periscope was sticking up and it was between us and the land, and we wanted to take and drop some charges on it because it wouldn't answer any of our signals."

Instead, the crew received orders to only observe the Japanese sub.

"They had to wait 'til they shot us and then we could finally shoot back."

On the morning of December 7, Bernie remembers sitting on an ammunition locker, chatting with other shipmates.

"We happened to look up over toward Pearl City and saw some planes coming in and said, 'Well I guess they're reinforcements,' but then all of a sudden there was a red ball."

Bernie and the crew scrambled to their guns and opened fire on the enemy planes, splashing at least one.

When the attack ended, the devastation set in.

"All we could see, smoke and fire and the buildings were all blown to pieces."

Bernie returned to Green Bay after the war, but the war stayed inside him.

"The first 25 years, I don't think I said anything to anybody," he said.

It wasn't until a reunion with former shipmates Bernie says he finally started to loosen up.

Son Allan was in high school when he first learned about his father's courage and sacrifice.

"It was something I was very proud of, you can't go to many people who can say, my dad is a Pearl Harbor survivor.'"

As the years passed, Bernie's stories started to flow.

"Unlike my father, I don't remember the quiet years from Gramps. I remember as a little kid being pretty engaged in hearing him tell stories," Brian said.

Some painful stories, others on the lighter side.

"One of my all-time favorites," said Brian, laughing, "is how he and his buddies drained the ethanol out of a torpedo, distilled it, and drank it."

Allan and Brian have visited Pearl Harbor before -- but never together, and never with their hero.

This time, on this trip, they say they finally, truly realize what the survivors went through.

"This morning talking to my son I had a tear in my eye when I was talking to him alone and saying, you know, I really understand," Allan said. "I'll never forget this. This will be with me for the rest of my life."

"This is not really about a war that ended almost 70 years ago," said Brian. "This is about a generation of men who changed the political landscape of the world and really defined who we are as Americans. And I want to know that story, because as his generation passes we become the ambassadors of the story."

"A lot of times I can't help but tears come to my eyes, not because I'm scared, it's because I think boy how lucky I was. When you can stand in the path of torpedoes, bombs dropping around you, shells whistling by you and you're still here, it's pretty good," Bernie said.

"It's not how lucky you were, it's how lucky we all are," Brian said, motioning to his father and himself.

"I don't know. I'd be the first one hit," Bernie laughed.

"Yeah, but we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you," said his son and grandson.

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