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Pearl Harbor survivor and U.S. Navy veteran Harley Guynn rode on the Madison Consolidated High School Theatre Department’s 2012 Madison Regatta float on Friday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Pearl Harbor survivor and U.S. Navy veteran Harley Guynn rode on the Madison Consolidated High School Theatre Department’s 2012 Madison Regatta float on Friday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Most people's knowledge of Pearl Harbor comes from text books, but Harley Guynn remembers Dec. 7, 1941, clearly and still has the pants he wore that day.

Just 19 years old, Guynn witnessed the destruction of Pearl Harbor and the naval ships firsthand - he was aboard the USS Maryland.

"I was inboard of the Oklahoma," he said. "It saved us."

Instead of spending time on the shores of Pearl Harbor as he had been planning that December day, Guynn ended up carrying ammunition to five guns aboard the USS Maryland. He also watched the USS Oklahoma capsize on the day when more than 2,400 people lost their lives and 1,100 others were wounded.

Guynn joined the U.S. Navy after graduation from Hanover High School in 1940. Being raised in Hanover, he never had the chance to see ships up close, but he chose the Navy anyway.

"I didn't have any big water except the Ohio River here," he said. "I liked ships even though I'd never seen one."

Knowing that war was coming, Guynn joined in September 1940 and was assigned to the USS Colorado in Washington. He was transferred to the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor in January 1941, and was transferred again to the USS Maryland only months before the attacks.

Guynn had planned to go ashore with two shipmates after being on night watch the day before. As the men made plans on deck, they saw planes approaching over the hills but knew that the military didn't ferry planes over on Sundays. Then they saw the planes were Japanese Zeros.

"First, I went to my gun position," he said. "Of course you can't shoot a broadside gun in a harbor. So I went on up to the anti-aircraft guns."

But those guns wouldn't start because they had been shut off for an inspection the day before. As Guynn carried ammunition, the admiral came aboard and began to help carry ammunition to the guns as well.

"I was so afraid (the admiral) was going to get that beautiful uniform soiled, greased," he said remembering the day.

As he carried the ammunition back and forth, Japanese planes tried to hit the USS Maryland several times. The only successful hit the Maryland took that day was from a bomb that exploded underneath the ship, causing a few plates to be torn from the bottom. Four men aboard the Maryland died that day, he said.

"I didn't lose a drop of blood," Guynn said. The only injuries he received were two broken eardrums.

As the second wave of Japanese fighters left Pearl Harbor and the damage behind, the military didn't know whether to prepare for another attack or begin to help the wounded.

"You didn't have the modern communications," he said. "We didn't know what was going to happen."

As the wounded filled the hospitals, other recovery efforts took place. Of the eight battleships at Pearl Harbor, only two sustained damage that couldn't be repaired.

"The attack lasted just less than two hours," Guynn said, "and the first 10 minutes, most of the ships were destroyed or hurt."

Guynn stayed in the Navy for five years after the attacks, working his way to yeoman first class and gaining top-secret clearance in the Navy. After his service, Guynn began an insurance career in San Francisco and eventually moved back to Indianapolis with his wife and son.

A lot has changed since that day 70 years ago. The USS Arizona, which sank on that December day, stands as a memorial to all the people who lost their lives in the attack. And the USS Maryland, once repaired and used again, isn't in existence anymore.

"That breaks my heart," Guynn said of the scrapped ship.

Guynn, now 90, traveled back to the site - his second visit since his Navy days - in December 2011 for the 70th anniversary of the attacks and to serve as one of the grand marshals in the annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade. He continues to make appearances at area veterans events in Indianapolis, and he participated in the Madison Regatta parade Friday honoring military veterans throughout the years. Guynn also continues to share his first-hand experiences of Pearl Harbor with schoolchildren around his Indianapolis home. Still his message remains the same anywhere he goes.

"The Navy and I got along well," Guynn said, but "we can do without another war."