A few minutes and 200 feet were all that separated James A. Seals from the explosion that could have killed him.
The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the good-looking, blue-eyed private from Pikeville, Tenn., awoke with plans to have breakfast on the USS Pennsylvania dry docked in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.
He walked unhurriedly with a friend under the calm sky, just a few clouds hovering high above them as they neared the shadow of the great battleship. That's when Japanese warplanes roared down from above, unleashing bombs on the battleship and the two destroyers — the USS Cassin and USS Downes — docked side by side nearby.
Bombs punctured the destroyers' hulls, releasing fuel oil and igniting major fires. Ammunition exploded and a torpedo detonated, blowing a large hole in the side of the Pennsylvania below the front deck. The crew of one gun mount was wiped out. Flames licked at the ship's bow.
For two hours, Seals lay in a roadside ditch where he dove when the bedlam began. He could hear people screaming and scratching in the hulls, trying to escape.
When the chaos subsided, the destroyers were wrecked. The Pennsylvania, too, had been hobbled. Had Seals been just a few minutes earlier for breakfast that day, he ...