Lee Austin was only 13 at the time, but the attack on Pearl Harbor led him into a life of service.
Austin, now 95, lived in North Carolina and felt compelled to sign up for the Navy as soon as he could.
“I realized a terrible thing had happened. I didn’t know it was that devastating till later on,” Austin said Thursday, as he and dozens of others attended Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day in Atlantic Beach.
Austin signed up for the Navy three days after World War II ended and served for 30 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.
“I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to represent the United States of America. I’m proud of this country. I love this country,” Austin said.
Austin, other veterans and active duty service members gathered Thursday at the Fleet Reserve Association branch on Mayport Road. The event — an annual observance since 1966 — consisted of music, prayer, a timeline of events from Dec. 7, 1941, and a moment where attendees could place a flower on a table in remembrance of the lives lost.
Capt. Brian Binder, commanding officer at Naval Station Mayport, said these types of events are important for young sailors so they understand the sacrifices made back in 1941.
“The world remains a complex environment, and what I think this shows today is how important it [is for] us as a Navy to be forward,” Binder said.
Dec. 7 is always a personal day for Binder and his family, since he served in Hawaii for two years. He went to Pearl Harbor and visited the USS Arizona Memorial, an experience he said is hard to describe.
“When you’re at the memorial it becomes very real for us,” Binder said.
Flags across the state of Florida and the United States flew at half-staff Thursday per orders from President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis.