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98-year-old Pearl Harbor veteran says ship blew up underneath him

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - It's a day our nation honors - the fallen heroes of the Pearl Harbor attack  - and the survivors who carry the stories from the battlefield.

WSLS 10 spoke to a 98-year-old Pearl Harbor veteran who lives in Roanoke and said his ship exploded from underneath him.

"We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Veteran Rod Bittner.

Bittner is haunted by the bloodshed he saw years ago in Hawaii. But, he remembers as if it was just yesterday.

"On the day of the attack, I was on the top side of the ship and I was looking over the top side of the ship," said Bittner. "I was looking over Hickam Field where there is an Air Force and I thought they were practicing bombing runs."

Bittner enrolled in the Navy at the age of 22 as a commissioned sergeant.

Two years later, he set off for Pearl Harbor on a repair ship called the 'Vestal', which was docked next to the USS Arizona.

He arrived just a matter of days before the attack and watched enemy troops fly in from the ship's deck. That Air Force he saw coming was actually the Japanese.

"I looked in the other direction and the Japanese were coming down with dive-bombers and torpedo-bombers," said Bittner. "And, the ship I was on was hit with two 500 lb bombs."

Bittner said the ship he was on exploded underneath him. Somehow he survived the attack and helped other Navy crews patch up their ships.

"I'm lucky to be here today," said Bittner. "The USS Arizona blew up and we would have ended up the same way."

Nearly three quarters of a century later, it's a story Bittner is here to tell today.