On this day 80 years ago, Madisonian William Scheer, then a 19-year-old in the Army Air Corps, was at Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Scheer watched as Japanese aircraft careened toward nearby Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs and spraying machine gun fire.
The following day, the United States declared war on Japan, entering World War II and setting the country and the world on a path that would change mankind forever.
In 2001, Scheer sat down for an interview with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum to detail his experience on that infamous day.
"'What do we do?'" Scheer recalled asking as the bombs fell before he and others hid under the installation's headquarters building.
"Of course the bombs kept coming and falling," Scheer said. "It was machine gun they were shooting. Every fifth round was a tracer and it looked like a red snowstorm."
In the weeks preceding the attack, Scheer noted that Wheeler Field had been on red alert, an emergency level that, though routine, he said had been ordered from Washington, D.C. Scheer said the alert was removed two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"I still don't know to this day and nobody ever explained who called us off of that alert on the fifth," Scheer said.
Following the attack, Scheer continued to work in communications and later transferred to the 47th Fighter Squadron.
After being honorably discharged as a staff sergeant, he settled in Waunakee and later worked for the Wisconsin Telephone Company. He died in 2011 at the age of 88.