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San Diegans Remember Pearl Harbor

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Thursday marks the 65th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill talks to two San Diegans with personal stories to share.

On December 7, 1941, 2,400 Americans were killed during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. The event spurred the U.S. entry into World War II. On that fateful day, Jesse Thompson and Ben Segawa were both children – children who experienced the attacks and the ensuing war in two very different ways. 

Thompson was 13 years old and staying at a friend’s house on "battleship row" in Oahu, Hawaii. His father was in the Navy. Thompson remembers waking up to the sound of bombs falling on the nearby U.S. fleet.  He says he ran outside in his pajamas, looked up and saw an airplane with Japanese markings. Thompson says he knew instantly that the nation was under attack.

Thompson: About 8:30, the bombing had stopped, so we started crawling out from under our tables and someone started to sing. And they sang, "Bod Bless America" and "My Country Tis of Thee." But while they were singing, they were also crying and they were also angry and frightened, and all the emotions were there."

Back on the mainland, 11-year-old Ben Segawa felt the aftermath of Pearl Harbor more than the attacks themselves. Born and raised in San Diego, Segawa was in the sixth grade when his Japanese-American family was sent to an internment camp in Arizona. With only a week to pack up and go, Segawa says the gravity of the situation didn't hit him right away.

Segawa: The real shocker came to me -- an eye opener for me -- was when we finally went down to the train station --Santa Fe Train Station -- to board the train. All these people there. They were all Japanese.  I had never seen so many of them.

Segawa spent more than three years at the internment camp in Poston, Arizona before returning to Chula Vista to finish high school. He says U.S. prejudice against Japanese-Americans lasted long after the war ended. But Segawa says he and his family members didn’t hesitate to serve in the U.S. armed forces. His four brothers joined the Army during World War II, and Segawa joined the air force when he came of age. 

December 7th is a date that always resonates in the memories of these two men.

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