COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Milton Mapou, 96, will never forget the day that changed the course of world history.
Mapou, a local World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, was on a ship that fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
“I remember running topside after hearing the explosion,” Mapou recalled. “I had my tray in my hand getting ready to eat.”
The plane was so low, Mapou could see the pilot’s face.
“He had a big smile on his face. About that time, he dropped a torpedo,” he said. “We happened to be lucky and he missed us.”
Mapou was one of the lucky few who left Pearl Harbor unscathed, but he was later injured during battle in the Pacific.
“In Okinawa, we were on the picket station and firing at the planes coming in,” Mapou said. “We couldn’t knock it down. It was coming in at the sun, and as it got closer, it got out of my view where I couldn’t fire anymore. I told the gun crew to take over.”
The plane hit Mapou’s ship, cutting it in half.
“The ship was going down,” Mapou said. “When I came to, my foot was [stuck] up here so I couldn’t do anything. The men were yelling ‘Abandon ship,’ and I just laid there until somebody came down and said ‘That’s all I can do for you,’ and over the side he went.”
As he lay there, Mapou prayed to get off the ship.
“The next thing I knew, I was in the water and I got away from the ship before it went down,” Mapou said. “[The] life raft was out there, and I grabbed onto the life raft and held onto that life raft for two and a half hours until they picked us up.”
Mapou said despite his injuries, the most painful moment was when doctors told him he could no longer serve.
“They came to me and told me I was being discharged,” he said. “I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m regular Navy.’ And they said, ‘That’s too bad. You’re unfit for sea duty so out you have to go.’”
Since his discharge, Mapou has remained active in the community, including volunteering at Mott’s Military Museum. The man who has seen so much has some advice for younger veterans today.
“Just bear with it and just keep going and take the good with the bad,” he said. “Just get out and work in your community and help other people like I am trying to do myself.”