Wetzel Sanders is one proud American, and the 93-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor makes no apologies for his love of country.
That’s true especially today as he visited Pearl Harbor. He was there on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked.
The Lincoln County native was just 18 years old and in the Army on that day. And 75 years later, he still hasn’t forgotten.
He’s made it his life mission to help others remember too.
He returned this week to participate in the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration which offered thousands – including a dwindling number of other survivors – a chance to revisit the day that plunged the country into World War II.
Sanders and his grandson, B.J. Handley, arrived in Hawaii on Sunday. They’ve attended several events, visited various sites and even met some celebrities including Gary Sinise, Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood.
He also had his picture taken with Fairmont native Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, a retired U.S. Marine who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima during WW II.
But what matters most are the Americans who died in the surprise attack.
Those deaths are still painful, he said.
“That devastation is always with me, and always will be. You just don’t forget the days it took to pull bodies covered with oil and diesel fuel from the harbor. Or how they were just stacked up waiting to be identified,” he said.
He vividly recalls the destruction of planes, ships, buildings and other military property lost that day.
“Even with all of those memories, I was ready to get back because I love coming over here because Pearl Harbor still matters so much. It’s what started World War II, and the Japanese plans caused us an awful lot of problems,” he said in a telephone interview following the commemorative ceremony.
“But we got a piece of the plane that was shot down, and we took care of that plane pretty quick.”
Approximately 2,400 military members died and that included several of Sanders’ buddies.
“I’m the only one still living from my outfit,” he said.
After also serving in the Marines for four years, Sanders returned to Midkiff which is located about halfway between Huntington and Logan. He retired from the state Department of Highways, and then drove a county bus for several years before retiring in the late 1980s.
This week he met Ray Chavez, who is 104 years old and the oldest known living Pearl Harbor survivor. That gave him an idea.
“I want to come back here in 2026 for the next anniversary, because I’ll only be 103 then.”