Central Ohio Pearl Harbor survivor remembers ‘Day of Infamy’ 76 years later

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Milton Mapou was an 18-year-old Navy sailor onboard the USS Detroit when World War II began as bombs and torpedoes raining down around his ship docked in Pearl Harbor.

NBC4 sat down with Mapou 76 years after that “Day of Infamy.”

Mapou is one of only a couple of Pearl Harbor attack survivors still living in Central Ohio.

He said on December 7, 1941 they were eating breakfast when they heard explosions.

“We ran topside and another sailor yelled to me, ‘who is it?’ And I replied ‘meatballs, meatballs!'”

It didn’t help running to his battle stations, because Mapou said all the machine guns were put away in the ammunition lockers.

“Sailors had to break the locks off.”

Seventy-six years later, Mapou said he still remembers hearing and feeling those explosions like it was yesterday. He said initially he was eye to eye with a Japanese pilot.

“About that time he dropped a torpedo and it went across our bow and that plane was so low I could see the pilot’s face, he was so low I could see the smile on his face,” Mapou said.

His ship was docked on Ford Island, but on the opposite side of the island from battleship row. He watched as the battleships took a beating and saw the U.S.S. Arizona explode.

“At first I was shaking, but then I cooled down and knew this was war now,” said Mapou. “No matter where you looked there was nothing but planes, not our planes but their planes,” he said.

For the next four years Mapou was onboard ships fighting their way across the Pacific.

“I got aboard a destroyer and we got sunk by a kamikaze in Okinawa,” he said. “We floated around in the ocean for two and a half hours and my leg was shattered,” Mapou said. He still wears a brace on his right leg from that injury.

Before Okinawa he was wounded near the Philippine Islands.

“We took a Kamikaze right outside the gun mound I was in and wiped out a 40 millimeter.” He was wounded in the head and eventually received two Purple Hearts for his wounds.

“Watching those planes sinking all those ships, that is something I will never forget,” Mapou said.

In 1946 he was discharged because of his wounds. On the 75th anniversary of the attack, friends from Motts Military Museum had a fund-raiser and sent him and his wife back to Pearl Harbor. Click here to watch NBC4’s coverage of the special event. 

“That was one of the nicest things that ever happened to me was taking me back there, and it was a big thrill to be back there,” Mapou said.

Mapou was born on October 15, 1921 in Rockaway Beach, NY. He enlisted at 18 in the US Navy. He said he did his boot camp in Newport RI. Then his first duty was aboard the Old Constellation in Boston Harbor. Afterwards he was transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to work aboard a destroyer tender.

“We took that out on shakedown cruises in the Atlantic Ocean,” Mapou said.

In July of 1940 he passed through the Panama Canal to San Diego and finally docked in Hawaii.

There he was transferred to the Admiral’s staff to run a launch running from ships to the beach, before being assigned to the Detroit.

If you would like to meet Milton Mapou, he volunteers at Motts Military Museum on Wednesday and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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