Charles “Chuck” Lishman is one of a few remaining Valley survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the event 74 years ago Monday that catapulted the United States into World War II.
Lishman remembers the fires, the noises, shell casings. He remembers feeling lucky, he says, to be alive.
“I remember the flames and I thank God how lucky we were that they (the planes) didn’t hit the fuel tanks. They could have wiped out the entire fleet,” said Lishman, who now lives in Coarsegold.
As a country, “we felt invincible then,” Lishman said, and in a way he said the country still does. He remembers the lack of alertness, the sheer surprise and magnitude of the hour-and-a-half long assault no one anticipated.
At 95, Lishman is one of the central San Joaquin Valley’s few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors. He was the vice-president and later president of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association Chapter 8, which comprises the Fresno area.
The Valley once had 150 veterans who were stationed at the base when the Japanese attacked, but those numbers have dwindled, leaving only a few to continue sharing their experiences.
On Monday, Lishman will join a handful of other survivors at the annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony. This year it will be at two locations, the Veteran’s Memorial Museum in Fresno and the Clovis Veterans Memorial District with both programs starting at 9:55 a.m.
I remember the flames and I thank God how lucky we were that they (the planes) didn’t hit the fuel tanks. They could have wiped out the entire fleet.
Pearl Harbor survivor Charles “Chuck” Lishman
Lishman has spent his life on the sea. At 16, he joined the Merchant Marine in Long Beach after watching his father, a sea captain for Union Oil, sail the Placentia across the world.
After a year at sea, Lishman was called from the Naval Reserve to active duty aboard the USS Perry. He spent three-days off base in June to marry his childhood sweetheart, Dorothy, before shipping out to Pearl Harbor.
He remembers before the war, when people were just beginning to recover from the Great Depression. Times were hard, he said, and the Navy would give you a good meal and shoes on your feet.
Lishman was supposed to be discharged on Dec. 2, 1941, and ship out for home on Dec. 8, but Pearl Harbor changed everything. He served aboard the Perry until August 1944, traveling in the Bering Sea and the South Pacific. Lishman was honorably discharged in October 1945.
He said he’s had a good life, but he doesn’t call himself a hero. Instead he focuses on the message of that day, he said, to be alert to potential threats, and be humble.
Dec. 7 is a day of remembrance for Lishman, an opportunity to reflect on 74 years since that day 2,500 lives were lost and the war started. As much as he remembers the pain of losing many friends both in the war and later in life, Lishman said he would do it all over again.
Lishman will be commemorating another anniversary in April: his 75th wedding anniversary to Dorothy, his middle school sweetheart. Lishman said he has a lot to be grateful for with four children, 10 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.
He worked for Union Oil when he returned home, got a boat on Lake Mead in Arizona where he lived for 20 years before retiring and moving to Fresno in 1999 and joining the Fresno Pearl Harbor survivors chapter.
He and his wife live a quiet life now in the hills of Coarsegold. He’s had a full life of travel, the sea and a love for his family and his country. Lishman plans to attend one of the ceremonies on Monday. After nearly three-quarters of a century, he still remembers the severity of the day and urges others to take a moment to do the same.
On the back of a portrait of the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor, Lishman has collected signatures from as many members of the chapter as he could: Scribbled signatures a lasting testament to the survivors. Lishman represents one of many lost and the many more remembered on Monday.
Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614
If you go
Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremonies will take place at 9:55 a.m., at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, 808 E. 4th St. Clovis, and at the Veteran’s Memorial Museum, at 2425 Fresno St., Fresno.