CUPERTINO -- When gunner's mate Frank Hanley emerged from below deck on that fateful Sunday morning, he suddenly realized this wasn't just a drill. He scanned the sky, wondering who was attacking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.

"Then I could see the planes had the rising sun painted on their wing tips, and I knew it was the Japanese," he recalled.

Hanley has seen -- and survived -- much in a lifetime that will reach a milestone Sunday when he celebrates his 100th birthday. At the top of the list was his harrowing combat experiences in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and at Pearl Harbor.

From his position atop the light cruiser USS Phoenix, he had a bird's-eye view to "a date which will live in infamy," as President Franklin D. Roosevelt later would call Dec. 7, 1941.

Portrait of U.S.S. Phoenix Pearl Harbor survivor Frank Hanley, who will be turning 100 on Nov. 17.
Portrait of U.S.S. Phoenix Pearl Harbor survivor Frank Hanley, who will be turning 100 on Nov. 17. (Josie Lepe)

"I was just hoping to come out of it alive," Hanley said.

Almost 72 years later, he is legally blind and hard of hearing. But overall, Hanley is in excellent physical condition -- still walking the hallways of his retirement complex for exercise -- and has a razor-sharp memory.

"His nurse always says that he has the body of a 70-year-old," said his youngest child, Gina Wilkins, 52, who also is a nurse. "His blood pressure is perfect. He has a touch of emphysema. But other than that, he's in great shape. Every day is a great day for him, and he never complains."

Hanley smiled.

"What good does it do?" he said.

As a member in good standing of the Greatest Generation who lived through the Depression, fought World War II and then built a strong economy, there's something else Hanley never does: Brag.

His story does it for him.

While he rarely got sick as an adult, Hanley was lucky to make it out of childhood as he battled Scarlet Fever and diphtheria. At age 9, he also was struck by a car in his native Colorado, suffering a broken leg and a severe brain injury. He was in a coma for four days.

"The doctors told your parents to call the priest and give you the last rites, and they did," said Wilkins, who sat close to her father and repeated questions loud enough for him to hear.

But he recovered. As a young man, Hanley worked a variety of hard-labor jobs, including in a steel mill, before joining the Navy in 1937. Four years later, his ship the Phoenix was moored near Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor. Shortly before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, Hanley was getting dressed for church services to be held aboard the USS California battleship.

Word was passed to close all watertight doors.

"I thought: 'A drill? On Sunday? Never heard of that before,'" Hanley recalled. "So I went up to my battle station."

Perched high above the bridge, where his job was to help target the ship's 5-inch guns, he watched the sneak attack's carnage unfold.

"I could even see the pilots," Hanley recalled. "One came in so close to us that he looked to me like he was smiling. But a guy on our ship was firing a 50-caliber machine gun, and I think hit the pilot. The plane kind of drifted away and then crashed into the hills."

About 200 yards away, the USS Arizona had become an inferno.

"One of the bombs had penetrated down to the magazine, and the ship blew up," he said. "I couldn't really hear the explosion. But what I remember was this thick, black cloud of smoke came out of the ship."

Hanley has a photo of the Phoenix that day that shows smoke billowing behind it from the stricken Arizona. Of the 2,400 Americans who died, 1,177 were on the doomed battleship. The California also was among the ships sunk that day.

But the Phoenix went unscathed with no casualties, and it joined a ragtag force that hunted the Japanese fleet afterward.

"We went out for about three days looking for the enemy," he said. "Luckily we couldn't find them. We were no match for the Japanese right then."

By Oct. 24, 1944, the tide had turned. Hanley was serving on the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Reno at Leyte Gulf, which was a terrifying engagement that might have been more threatening than Pearl Harbor.

The light carrier USS Princeton was struck by a bomb from a lone Japanese plane, and the Reno and USS Birmingham pulled alongside to assist. The Reno then was called away to repel more planes.

"We were circling to go back around to where we were before when there was this tremendous explosion on the Princeton and killed about 200 men," Hanley said. "A lot of them had been survivors who had gotten on the Birmingham."

Had the Reno still been next to the Princeton, Hanley is not sure he would have survived the blast.

After the war, Hanley remained in the Navy and didn't retire until 1959 with 22 years of service. Married twice, he fathered seven children -- six are surviving -- and has 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Longevity runs in the family. His mother lived to be 96 and a brother died at 94. But Hanley also has taken care of himself. He walked about 12 miles a day during his 18 years as a postal carrier.

Until recently, he would use jugs filled with water as hand weights during his daily walks. As for his diet, Wilkins said her father pretty much eats anything.

"I've noticed that you've been doing the vegetarian choices a lot lately," she told him.

"But," he added, "I don't care for seafood, unless it's crispy fried shrimp."

Because of his poor eyesight, he doesn't watch television. But he enjoys listening to books on tape.

His family is gathering for a big birthday bash. But he seems mildly amused about the fuss.

"It's just another day, just another birthday," Hanley said with a shrug.

Spoken like a man who never complains or brags.

Follow Mark Emmons at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.