MACHIAS, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A World War II veteran who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor is trying to return for the 75th anniversary.
Robert Coles now lives in Machias. The 92-year-old World War II veteran needs a little bit of financial help but is ready and willing to make the journey to Hawaii.
Coles was a 17-year-old radioman apprentice serving on board the U.S.S. Bagley when he saw the first planes coming into Pearl Harbor.
"I could see stuff — I call it sand out of a bucket — falling out of the aircraft, hitting the hangers down at the harbor on the NAS Ford Island," he said. "In my simple little mind, I said to myself, 'This is no maneuver. This is war.'"
"I loaded [a] No. 2 50-caliber-machine gun with the boxes and I swear before Almighty God I shot at and hit the first two torpedo planes that went by the ship," he said.
Coles doesn't know if the planes went down, and he said he was replaced as soon as the gunner's mate arrived. He spent the rest of that battle spotting planes and loading ammo. Although it was a frightening time, he looks back now with great pride at the way this country responded to that attack and pulled together.
"America was a great god," he said. "We were a wonderful country with morals values."
Coles wants to go back for the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor so that he doesn't forget, and he wants to make sure that the nation doesn't forget either.
"That's why I want the stuff to happen to let the people of today know this is what your country did for you," he said. "Don't piss it away. Don't throw it away foolishly."
It was a warning not issued out of anger but out of love for this country and a desire to make sure that it continues to be great.
Coles earned 17 battle stars and was in other major battles including Midway, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.
He is planning to take a traveling companion with him if they can raise enough money to make the trip. Coles said the nonprofit Honor Flight will pay for their travel from California to Hawaii, and for their hotel in Hawaii, but they will need to get to California on their own.
They have set up a GoFundMe page and there is also an account set up at Machias Savings Bank so that anyone can go to their local branch and make a donation to the Robert Coles fund to help him fund his trip.