FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – 80-years-ago a Fresno veteran survived the sinking of his ship during World War II. 

December 7th, 1941 the empire of Japan strikes at the heart of United States naval power with the deadly surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. The U.S. was stunned and pulled into World War II.

In a desperate plan devised by the United States, 16 B-25 bombers launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet would strike a blow in Tokyo on board the Hornet that fateful day. 

100-year-old Fresno resident Bob Cole, “he made sure he came over to me and shook my hand I was the only sailor and everyone else was Army” Cole says. Bob talking about then lieutenant colonel Jimmy Doolittle who commanded the raid. 

Doolittle and his staff thinking about nothing but a life or death mission at hand, destination Tokyo. 

Bob says “He was such a gentleman. He made sure that he recognized me every night we’re out.” Cole was a crewman on board the Hornet that fateful day in April 1942. Doolittle’s Raiders made it to Tokyo. They dropped their bombs, the damage was minimal the moral boost would demoralize the United States was colossal. 

The USS Hornet sailed into history and more battles. Bob Cole sailed with her to the Battle of Midway until she finally sunk 80 years ago Wednesday.  

Cole says “the Japanese fighters planes drove right into the tower of our trip and killed the two people who are up there on that guiding that ship. 

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands October 26, 1942. The Hornets struck in a kamikaze attack then a second hit, then the final blow.

Cole says “the Japanese dropped a bomb at the ship. It came right down the elevator and landed right where we were stationed and exploded a 500-pound bomb.  

Out of 35 sailors working alongside Bob, only twelve survived. Then came the order all on board were dreading. Cole says “be prepared to abandon the ship so we walked over at the edge of the hanger deck and put three together and hung on we jumped into the ocean.” 

Bob leaving the ship with his life, but also a wound he’d carry a lifetime. Cole says “so they helped me up and then lost an eye at that time it came out part way I was able to shove back in with my fingers.”

2100 men abandoned ship, 140 died, Bob one of the lucky ones. “I was fortunate to be picked up about 45 minutes to an hour on board a destroyer” Cole says.

The destroyer took Bob to a U.S. hospital ship in New Guinea. A doctor was able to restore his eye which was hanging by an optic nerve. But the damage was done to his body and his soul. 

Cole says “I was trying to visualize what am going to look like if I ever got to go home.”

To this day Bob can only see a few inches out of that eye, remembering lives lost sinking into the tides of time.

“Its sad, its sad to think that they went down with the ship,” Cole says.

And on the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the Hornet, a grateful nation says thank you to Bob Cole and all who served on the USS Hornet. 

Cole was honored by the Veteran’s Military museum in Downtown Fresno.