FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, Dec. 20, 2006) - Sixty-five years after Imperial Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, Charles Horner, who lived through the "day of infamy," wanted to spend time meeting the warriors wounded in the global war on terrorism.
Now 86 and living in a nursing home, Horner asked the staff at San Antonio's Heartland Health Care Center to help the visit happen through the center's "Heart's Desire" program.
Dr. Rebecca Hooper, administrative director of the Amputee Care Center, said that Brooke Army Medical Center and the patients would be honored to have Horner visit.
Horner, who said he remembers the attack on his ship as if it were yesterday, spent the morning Dec. 7 reminiscing and creating bonds with a new generation of warriors who have their own stories about today's battles.
He recalled to the patients how early in the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, then Seaman 1st Class Charles Horner excused himself from the Navy mess aboard the USS Helena to answer nature's call. He had just eaten breakfast with seven other Sailors aboard his cruiser docked at the Pearl Harbor naval pier.
What the 21-year-old Horner saw next as he left the restroom that early Sunday morning was shattering. Japanese torpedo aircraft were attacking the Pacific Fleet. Then his ship was torpedoed.
"You've got to be scared in situations like this or you're not human."
For Horner, his worst fears were realized when he later learned that all of his breakfast companions were either injured or killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
When the Japanese attacked the Pacific Fleet and catapulted the U.S. into World War II, it cost the lives of more than 2,300 people. Another 1,100 were wounded, four ships were sunk and 180 aircraft were destroyed at Hickam Airfield.
Marked for life by the attack that cost the lives of several of his comrades, Horner said he walked away with little physical damage adding his condition today is "just old age."
"I was lucky; I came home in one piece except for a broken vertebra," Horner said.
"One thing I can give away is good wishes," Horner said. "On behalf of the USS Helena and its crew, I want to thank today's wounded."
For Horner and the wounded warriors he met at the clinic, the bridge across the generations talking about traumatic injuries that occur in war was short.
Spc. Domingo Soto Santana, who lost an arm to an IED in Mosul, Iraq, was the first wounded warrior to greet the Pearl Harbor survivor in the occupational therapy clinic.
Comparing his service in Iraq to Hunter's service at Pearl Harbor, Santana said military members answer the call to duty without much thought to the impact.
"In that moment because you are just doing your job, you don't realize there's a story behind it," Santana said. "He wanted to meet the guys behind the Iraq story."