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Pearl Harbor survivor plans to return to Hawaii 75 years after attack

SANDY — Raymond Salsedo only has been back to the memorials at Pearl Harbor twice in the past 75 years.

There's one place he will not visit again.

"I just cried from the (USS) Arizona. I never did go back," Salsedo said.

Salsedo, who lives in Sandy but was born in Hilo, was working on the dry dock at Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

"Nice day," he recalled. "Sun was out, beautiful day. And suddenly hell turned loose."

Salsedo was near the USS Caspain and USS Downes, both destroyers. They were among the first ships targeted by Japanese aircraft. Explosions on both ships sent shrapnel into the building next to him, he said.

"Probably if I had been standing up, I would have been killed," Salsedo said.

But he had hit the deck, then rolled to find shelter beneath a rail car.

Salsedo wiped tears from his eyes as he described hearing the cries of some of the wounded.

"All I hear was these boys in the dry dock," he said. "Nineteen-year, 20-year-old boys, sailors. They were just hollering, 'Mother, mother, mother."

When the attack ended, Salsedo heard another call, this one from his supervisor telling him to get up and grab his welding gear. They soon boarded a Navy boat and traveled across the bay to the heavily damaged USS Oklahoma.

Salsedo, a civilian worker at Pearl Harbor, had been trained as a diver and an underwater welder. His first assignment was above the surface, cutting holes in the hull of the capsized Oklahoma.

Salsedo said 11 men came through the escape holes he cut. In all, 32 sailors were rescued, he said. But Salsedo remembers hearing others banging on the ship's hull who could not be reached. He said the banging continued for three days.

For that entire time, Salsedo said, he and others worked to rescue those who could be reached. He said they were not able to get the word out to anyone off the base, so for those three days, his wife thought he had been killed.

The night, Salsedo finally returned home. Believing that more attacks were imminent, he went to the backyard and built a small bomb shelter.

When he returned to the base the next day, Salsedo was set to work on salvage operations on the USS Arizona. The first job was to remove the ship's massive guns.

"I would dive down and burn those big huge bolts that were holding the turrets down," he said. "Then they would have those huge cranes, floating cranes on barges, and they would lift those guns out."

At some point in those first few days, a Naval officer swore him into the Navy and told him, if needed, he would be sent out to sea. Instead, Salsedo spent the next three years salvaging whatever possible from the Arizona.

It was during that time that Salsedo saw some of the worst results of the attack, he said.

"As I burned down into those guns, there were … bodies here and there," Salsedo said. "I would sometimes pull a sock out from a shoe and turn it over to find bones."

That is part of the reason Salsedo said he has no desire to return to the memorial that now sits over the USS Arizona.

But he does want to return to Pearl Harbor.

"I'd like to see the dock where I was standing and the shrapnel holes that are on the wall," he said. "I understand they're still there."

Salsedo also said it's time for civilians who were at Pearl Harbor that day to be remembered.

"I think after all the years, we'd like to be recognized," he said.

The people organizing the 75th anniversary events at Pearl Harbor agreed.

Salsedo's family said the organizers enthusiastically welcomed him to attend the events. Salsedo now has a cap that reads "Pearl Harbor Survior" and a commemorative pin.

"They should always remember Pearl Harbor, I think, and appreciate what happened over there so that we could live today," he said. "We're here because of those first men that gave thier lives."

Salsedo spent his career working for the Air Force, Army and Navy as a civilian. He retired in northern California, and then moved to Utah to live with family five months ago, after his wife's death.

Email: mgiauque@ksl.com