Ralph Wingo was 20 years old in 1941. He was living at home in the Frog Pond community on Spruce Pine Mountain and was focused on seeing what the rest of his life would bring.
On Dec. 6, 1941, he and some other young adults were taking care of a sick elderly woman who lived in the community.
"The adults had been sitting up with her around the clock, and us boys had been keeping a fire going all night," Wingo said.
After taking his turn keeping the fire going all night, Wingo left the neighbor's house on the morning of Dec. 7. He was making his way back to his parents' house, walking as usual on the same old, dusty road.
A car stopped beside him. The driver delivered the message that would change his life.
"He said the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor," Wingo said. "I think I stood there for a minute or two just trying to get in my mind exactly what this news meant. Then it hit me,"
The United States was under attack and about to enter World War II.
Muscle Shoals resident Fay Holt was a 17-year-old high school senior in Hominy, Okla., at the same time.
"I had made a down payment on a Model-A Ford," he said. "I had been working in a grocery store, saving up my 50 cents a week to pay for it. That Sunday, I was out riding in the car when we heard about Pearl Harbor.
"I told someone that day it wouldn't take us but about two weeks to whip those (Japanese)."
Wingo and Holt lived hundreds of miles apart when Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The barrage lasted two hours and left death and devastation.
The attack destroyed nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and almost 200 airplanes. More than 2,000 Americans soldiers and sailors died in the attack and another 1,000 were wounded.
The following day, Congress approved a request by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare war on Japan. Within three days, Japanese allies Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States.
"I'll never forget (Pearl Harbor). It changed my life, it changed everybody's life forever," said the 91-year-old Wingo.
He said he had friends who were in Hawaii and died in the attack.
"What happened just stayed on my mind," Wingo said. "It really hit home, and I just couldn't get over it. The more I thought about what happened, then seeing what was going on in Europe, I decided I needed to be involved."
Wingo enlisted and became a part of the 124th Regiment of the 31st Infantry Division. He spent 39 months and 15 days in the military.
Like Wingo, Holt was inspired to join the military and do his part.
"As soon as I turned 18, I joined," he said. "Everybody in my class was going, and I knew I wanted to. I didn't think I wanted to be an infantry solider, so I joined the Merchant Marines."
Holt, who is 89, said he was involved in a number of missions in the north Atlantic.
"We stayed in the Arctic Ocean a lot and we came under attack on almost every trip," he said. "The first trip out, we lost nine ships.
"I told myself if I ever got back I would join the Army, but we didn't come back to the states. I was stuck for another trip. By the time I went back and forth three or four times in the north Atlantic, I figured I could go anywhere and just stayed."
Wingo said he was originally assigned to be a telephone lineman in the infantry, but ended up with three or four jobs.
He boarded a ship in Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 16, 1942, with 11 inches of snow on the ground.
"We went to South America and a German sub got after us one night," Wingo said. "It chased us around until we got air support that dropped some depth charges. We didn't have any problems after that."
After going through the Panama Canal, Wingo ended up on Good Enough Island, which is off Australia, for a short stay before going to New Guinea.
"We had just stopped to take a break from walking, and I sat down next to a coconut tree," Wingo said. "The next thing I know, (the Japanese) were everywhere and shooting at us. You talk about digging a hole, this old boy dug one and dug one fast. I didn't know I could do that with that little shovel they gave us. But I did, and I crawled in."
Wingo said a lot of men in his unit were killed that day. The possibility of death was something he said they all learned to accept as part of what they were doing.
"Everybody was looking for a bullet that had their name on it," Wingo said. "I'm glad it never found me. I got pretty close several times, but never got hit."
He was in the Philippines when the war ended.
"We were part of the group making plans to invade Tokyo and the war ended," he said. "I remember that day. We had killed a lot of Japanese already, but that day they started coming down out of the hills and they were more than any of us knew. They weren't any trouble. They were as glad to get it over as we were."
Wingo left the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day in 1945, was discharged on Christmas Eve and made his way back to Frog Pond.
"Honestly, there were times I never dreamed I would see Alabama, Spruce Pine or Frog Pond again," he said. "But you know, I'd do it again in a minute. No hesitation. We all would."
"No questions asked. You doggone tooting I would do it all over again," he said. "I love my country and what it's done for me. I'm proud of it. We all should be proud of it."
Wingo said he met a lot of people during the war who were like Holt and himself — they joined because of what happened Dec. 7, 1941.
"We were all inspired in one way or another by what happened that day," Wingo said. "We'll never forget it. We went because there was a need. It was what we needed to do, and we did it without hesitating."
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.