Oran "Sonny" Chenault Jr. was lying on the floor of his family's screened porch with the Sunday comics spread out before him when hell broke loose.

The explosions hit one after another — boom boom boom boom boom — rocking the bungalow and waking the 7½-year-old's mother. 

It was about 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, and Chenault's father, a Navy doctor, was on duty a half-block away at the naval hospital in Pearl Harbor, finishing an overnight shift that was expected to end around 10 a.m. The boy and his mother ran into the yard just in time to see four aircraft "flying very low, very fast."

"They were very shiny, lots of red on them," Chenault, now 84 and living in Suffolk, said. "And, my mother said, 'They're Japanese.'"

President Franklin D. Roosevelt would declare it a "date which will live in infamy" as he sought a declaration of war from Congress on the next day. But for a boy witnessing an attack that forced the U.S. entrance into World War II, the day and those that followed were a combination of chaos and uncertainty.

As they made their way to the hospital, Chenault, his mother and his grandmother, who lived with them, sought cover from red hot shrapnel that rained around them by sticking under building eaves. A little neighbor girl was not so lucky; a piece left her with a black spot where her ear had been, Chenault said.

More than 2,300 people were killed in the attack. Of those, 1,177 were crewmen aboard the USS Arizona when the battleship was sunk. About twenty ships were sunk, including the USS Oklahoma, or damaged. Nearly 200 aircraft also were destroyed in the surprise attack. 

Chenault sought refuge with others in a physical therapy center in the hospital's basement. From a small window, they watched as a second wave hit. He remembers watching casualties pour in in a steady stream.  

"They were bringing them in on flatbed trucks," Chenault said.

Chenault returned home briefly that day to gather some belongings, including a toy Japanese plane, which adults back at the hospital destroyed out of anger. Later, Marines set up a .50 caliber machine gun in his back yard. 

"They were kind enough to give me a tutorial in the weapons and I loved every minute of it," he later wrote in a history of that day. "It was a lot more fun than school."

The next couple of weeks plunged into darkness. Headlights on vehicles were painted dark. Black out curtains went up. Chenault was withdrawn from school. 

"It was a little tense for about two weeks until Christmas," he said. "It wasn't the usual happy go lucky, go out and ride your bike, all that stuff."

The Navy sent Chenault and other families back to the mainland via an ocean liner, called the Lurline, on Christmas Day, escorted part of the way by a cruiser and destroyer. His father stayed behind in Pearl Harbor for several months and, after flight surgeon training, returned to the Pacific as the senior medical officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill, according to a Navy history. He retired as a captain in 1959, the same year his son graduated from medical school at Tulane University. Chenault, who served in the Navy reserves while in medical school, received his commission during his senior year. 

Chenault was serving on board the USS Repose, a Navy hospital ship, when it passed by his old house on the naval station, which backed up to the water, in 1966. He hadn't seen it since childhood.

"That was a deja vu experience all over again," he said. "As soon as I could get off the ship, I went back and walked through all that stuff."

Chenault retired as a captain in 1978 and went into private practice before retiring again in 1999. On the wall of his living room in Lake Prince Woods, a retirement community in Suffolk where he lives with his wife Jane, hangs a framed document dated Dec., 6, 1941. It lists those on duty at the Pearl Harbor naval hospital. At the top, "O.W. Chenault" is the officer of the day.  The elder Chenault died in 1980.

A Navy Medicine history from 1991 includes an interview with Chenault's father, who remembered examining a patient when he heard the "noise of an aeroplane in a power dive" before an explosion. The attack tested Navy medicine as crews were forced to respond to the emergency. Within three hours of the attack, the 250-bed hospital received 546 casualties and 313 dead, according to Navy history. By day's end, a hospital census reached 960 casualties.

Chenault kept heavy chunks of shrapnel that he picked up in the days following the attack as well as a piece of a Japanese "Val" dive bomber that crashed nearby. Red paint, likely a ray from the rising sun, is painted on it. 

Despite about 40 years of friendship, Earl Densten, a senior chief petty officer who retired from the Navy in 1973, said he only learned about Chenault's experiences in Pearl Harbor about three years ago. It wasn't until earlier this week that he learned Chenault had saved some history as well.

"It surprised me that a little kid would go out there and collect souvenirs like that," Densten said.

Chenault doesn't remember being scared by the attack. What he does remember is how frightened the adults were over what might happen next. They feared an invasion was imminent. 

"Death wasn't even in my vocabulary," Chenault said. "So I got indoctrinated. Six months later, I was very knowledgable."

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