LOCKEFORD, Calif. (KTXL) — Saturday marks the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor — December 7, 1941 — a date that will live in infamy.
With the passing of each year, the number of servicemen and women who survived are shrinking as the greatest generation grows older. That’s why one San Joaquin County man wants to share his story with as many people as he can.
Delton E. “Wally” Walling, 98, was just 19 at the time. He was a communications officer in the Navy.
“I joined because I could see a war coming,” he said.
But when Walling tried to join up at 18 in Michigan, he almost wasn’t allowed in.
“They come over and grab that finger of mine. ‘Oh, you’re 4-F. Go home,’” Walling said.
Walling had broken his right middle finger while boxing.
“And I said, ‘Wait a minute. I can lick the whole bunch of you with one arm behind my back. What do I have to do to get in this great Navy?’” he said. “And they said, ‘Cut it off.’”
So he cut it off and he never looked back.
The morning of the attack, Walling said he started the day running 20 miles around Pearl Harbor. As a long-time boxer, he liked to stay in shape.
Along the way, he took a break at his station, stopping to climb the water tower on Ford Island where his shift was supposed to start hours later.
“I was up there because a man owed me some money,” he said. ”He was being transferred the next day. I knew I would never see him again.”
He collected his debt but soon he noticed a strange sound in the sky.
“The sky is full of planes, a roar of planes,” Walling told FOX40.
Walling, and most everyone else, figured it was American planes doing drills.
“And then the first bombs went off on the ramp at Ford Island. Now we know we’re in the attack,” he said.
Walling stayed in the Navy for the rest of the war, serving under every admiral at one point or another who was in the Pacific Ocean theater.
He now lives outside of Lockeford. For years, he attended and organized memorial services at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii up until this year.
“See, I’ve got cancer of the bone,” Walling said. “And I am on my way out.”
Walling has had cancer for 14 years but doctors told him three weeks ago that it’s spreading.
“So this is why I wanted to tell all this story right now because it’ll never be told again,” he told FOX40.
Wally’s family said he still pays for the flowers and wreaths to be changed at all the different memorials and cemeteries around Oahu. He says Dec. 7 is an important day to observe.
He hopes after he’s gone, Americans today will know what his generation sacrificed for future freedoms. After all, that’s what he’s been doing ever since Dec. 7, 1941.
“It’s been a wonderful thing for me to be able to do it,” he said.