Ben Smith reported to his battle station on the USS California shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor began. There he remained, helping funnel ammunition topside, as the ship absorbed one torpedo hit, then another.
When the 1,500-pound armor-piercing bomb hit, "something came loose and banged me on the head," the 91-year-old Pittsburg resident said.
"A fire and rescue party came along and figured I was dead, so they threw me onto the pile with all the other dead men."
When the call to abandon ship was issued, the dead men were thrown over the side. Smith came to when he hit the water.
"I thought, this is no place for you to be," he said. "So I got the hell out of there."
Smith was one of three survivors from his 25-man battle station.
On Wednesday afternoon, a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors and their families will gather on Mount Diablo where a beacon will be lit to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack that drew the United States into World War II.
The beacon -- Standard Oil installed it as navigation aid in 1932 -- was turned off as a security precaution after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz relit it in 1964 and asked that it be illuminated only on Dec. 7 each year.
This year's ceremony will be the last for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a national group established in 1958, which will disband at year's end because of dwindling and aging
"I've been a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors for many years," said Smith, who belongs to local Chapter 13. "Everything is coming to a close."
Not everything. Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, established in 1973, will serve as a successor group to the PHSA. The local chapter is especially vibrant, with more than 30 members.
"By no means does this mean the Pearl Harbor survivors are going away," said Concord's Kathleen Farley, whose late father was a survivor and who is the state chairwoman for Sons and Daughters. "They just won't have a national organization. They've been encouraged to keep meeting as a social group, taking part in parades. Nothing will change. It is our vow that the sons and daughters, grandkids and great-grandkids will be lighting the beacon in their memory."
That's welcome news for Concord's John Egan, who was on the USS San Francisco the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. As far as he can determine, there has never been more interest in the attack on Pearl Harbor and its survivors.
"People are extremely patriotic," said Egan, who joined the Marines when he was 15 by lying about his age. "It's overwhelming. Kids come up shaking your hand, asking you to talk about the war. They treat us like we were royalty. I feel like, what the hell did I do?"
Egan wasn't able to do much during the attack. His ship, headed for dry dock, had offloaded its ammunition.
"All hell broke loose," he said. "We had no weapons to fire. We brought machine guns up, and the welders welded them into place."
Farley's late father, John, was on the USS California. It wasn't until she was a young woman that she began to hear stories she believes should be passed down the generations. Her father's catharsis began when he was asked to answer five questions about Pearl Harbor for a girl who was doing a school project.
"He sat down at the typewriter, and he typed out volumes of stuff," she said. Later, she accompanied her father on a visit to the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. There, she said, he was approached by Japanese tourists.
"They came up to my father and said, 'We're so sorry,' " Farley said. "If that wasn't a turn of events."
Here's another: The 79-year-old beacon on Mount Diablo is in occasional need of new parts. "Ironically," Farley said, "the only place we can get a bulb is in Japan."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.
The annual "Lighting the Eye of Diablo" commemorative beacon lighting event takes place Wednesday, Dec. 7, beginning at 3:45 p.m. at the Mount Diablo summit. The lighting takes place at sunset.
'Lighting the Eye of Diablo': Wednesday, sunset, at the summit.