Pearl Harbor survivor talks about fateful day

GAINESVILLE - Mack Abbott can still remember the morning of the Pearl Harbor attacks.

Abbott said he got up early that morning on Dec. 7, 1941, and had breakfast. He returned to the barracks and was talking to two other men when they heard an explosion. He looked out the window and saw a Japanese plane flying by.

"I could have hit the plane with a rock, it was that close," Abbott said.

So he grabbed a gun and some ammunition and started shooting at the pilot, like he had been trained to do. Abbott said he's credited with helping shoot down three of the 29 planes that were brought down.

"I remember it all very clearly," Abbott said.

After the planes were gone, Abbott said he started helping get men out of the water. Many were badly burned or otherwise injured.

The former Marine, now 84, has written a book about his war experiences, "First and Last Shots Fired in World War II," and spends his time talking to schools, veterans groups and civic groups. He is also the president of the north Atlanta chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

Abbott recently traveled to Hawaii with the Peachtree Ridge High School marching band, which performed with other high school bands at the USS Arizona National Memorial. It was Abbott's fifth trip to the memorial.

"I thought it was really wonderful," Abbott said.

Angelia Morgan, the band booster president, said the band was given a list of Pearl Harbor survivors who might be willing to make the trip to Hawaii with the band for the 65th anniversary of the attack.

The band director contacted Abbott, who seemed like a good match for the band, Morgan said.

Band leaders wanted the students to learn the history of the Pearl Harbor attacks, and Abbott talked to the students about his experiences, Morgan said. During the trip, Abbott pointed to where his barracks were and relayed other memories of the day, she said.

It was amazing "to listen to him talk and to have him there, knowing what he experiences and (seeing) how it affected him," Morgan said.

Many Pearl Harbor survivors have traveled this year to Hawaii for the 65th anniversary of the attacks for what may be the last large gathering of survivors. Many survivors have already passed away.

Woodrow C. Robinson, a Grayson resident and a Pearl Harbor survivor, died on Nov. 11, 2005, which was Veterans Day and his 82nd birthday, said his son, Rusty Robinson.

Woodrow Robinson had visited the national memorial in the past, showing his wife, Betty, the bullet-ridden pillar he stood behind during an attack, Rusty Robinson said.

"He had lots of stories to tell," Rusty Robinson said.

The attack on Pearl Harbor also marked his father's one-year anniversary of enlisting in the Army, Rusty Robinson said.

Rusty Robinson said his mother is planning to visit a Pearl Harbor exhibit in Atlanta this year. He hopes to travel to Hawaii one day to visit the national memorial.