Seaman First Class Alan Sanford was 18 years old when he saw the waves of warplanes streaming into Pearl Harbor. 50 years later the St. Paul native said in an oral history interview: "I figured they had no other target in the world but me. I can’t say I was afraid. I was terrified.”
More than an hour earlier on that morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Sanford and his gun crew aboard the destroyer USS Ward had fired what proved to be the first U.S. shots of World War II, sinking a Japanese mini-submarine that tried to sneak into the harbor.
Sanford died at age 91 earlier this year and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Sanford had enlisted in the Minnesota Naval Militia while he was still in high school, his obituary in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes. When he graduated in 1940, tensions in the Pacific were rising and his unit was activated.
He recalled in his 1991 interview with the National Park Service that the shot fired by his gun barely the missed the submarine, which was then hit by a second gun and sunk by depth charges.
Sanford's son, retired Navy Capt. James Sanford, told the Journal in an interview that for decades the Navy did not believe the USS Ward's report of sinking the sub 75 minutes before the bombers arrived.
Finally, in 2002 the wreckage of the submarine was recovered by divers with the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory.
In his retirement Sanford settled in western Pennsylvania, where he recounted Pearl Harbor Day for KDKA on the 70th anniversary of the attack.
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Sanford's obituary notes that after his military service he became an engineer and worked for many years at the Kennedy Space Center. He was part of the support team at Cape Canaveral when Apollo 13 returned safely after an in-flight explosion.
Sanford's oral history interview with the Park Service is part of a CSPAN documentary on Pearl Harbor survivors that was broadcast in 2009.