On the afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941, Murray Price was riding through the countryside with friends in Lexington County.
Murray, then 20, and a female friend were entertaining a young married couple from Knoxville, Tenn., who had come to the area to see the sights.
The female friend, Frances, had picked him up just after lunch, and the four drove out from Lexington across the Lake Murray Dam to Ballentine, then down U.S. 76 into Columbia.
As they reached downtown at the 1800 block of Main Street 74 years ago today, Price said a “news butch” stood outside the old Jefferson Hotel hawking newspapers. “Extra! Extra! Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in Hawaii!” Price recalled the cry.
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“That was the first I heard about it.”
The next day, of course, Congress declared war on Japan. “We knew war was inevitable, but the big surprise was that the Japanese got us into the war – I guess we thought it was going to be Germany,” said Price, who later married Frances.
Japan’s ally, Germany had already been sinking U.S. merchant ships, he said. Within days, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
The U.S. draft was already in effect for men aged 21 to 31 years old, said Price, who volunteered for the Army in August 1942 and exited the war three years later as a decorated B-24 pilot. “We knew war was on the way and all young men would be going – and I would be going.”
Price said he didn’t run to sign up, though. He had to be 21 in order to serve. Instead, Price was one of 16 young men who took the aviation cadet exam and was one of two who passed. He finished the cadet program and became a pilot.
As a pilot, Price flew over half the world, he said. He flew 40 combat missions over Iwo Jima and other Pacific islands. No member of his crew was ever phsically injured, he said, though two of them suffered nervous breakdowns. Price said he saw pilots flying right next to him get shot down. His aircraft was once hit by enemy fire on 15 consecutive missions, he said.
Vernon Brantly of Columbia was a high school senior in South Bend, Ind., on the fateful Sunday of the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii. Brantly had been attending a multi-denominational youth group meeting sponsored by the Baptists, he said.
“As we came out of the church, it was already dark, and this was back in the good ‘ol days when the paper boys rode up and down the streets with bicycles selling the ‘extra’ newspapers.”
The news was that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, of course.
“I don’t think anybody in our group knew where Pearl Harbor was,” Brantly, 91, recalled. “I would dare say that 95 percent of the population didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was.”
Television was scarce then, so radio ruled, Brantly said, and the next day President Roosevelt delivered his “date of infamy” address asking Congress to declare war.
Brantly finished his senior year and graduated at age 17. Brantly said he turned down deferments and instead “chose” to be drafted into military service. His mechanical aptitude earned him a spot in an Army specialized training corps where he came out as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
Brantly sustained a serious injury during the Battle of the Bulge in France. While he was in the hospital recuperating, both his replacement and his company lieutenant were killed in duty.
“I guess you can say that bad luck was good luck,” Brantly said.
“I never considered myself a hero, but I can proudly say I was honored to serve with some who were,” Brantly said.
Price, who lives in Lexington, was awarded the medal of honor, seven air medals and two battle stars.
“I was very fortunate. The Good Lord has been very kind to me,” said Price, who is 94 and still in good health, he said. “I’ve been blessed many ways, many times.
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398