ST. MARIES, ID — When Tommy Thomason was 17 years old, he joined the U.S. Navy to "see the world" with his cousin.
But his young eyes would soon witness the unimaginable.
"Oh it was terrible," he said, sitting in his lounging chair inside his St. Maries home. "I mean everybody was crying. And to think of all those ships and airplanes and people killed. Just devastating."
In early December, his ship had just completed maneuvers from Wake Island. He thinks about the close call to the surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on December 8th.
"We were supposed to be there on the 6th of December, but we didn't get in there until the 8th," he said.
His ship was just 150 miles away on the 6th.
And what he saw on the morning of December 8th still lives in his memory.
"Everything was still burning," he said. "All the airplane hangars were just shambles, they're just skeletons. Everything around you that you're familiar with is all blown apart and gone."
"It was pretty hard to take knowing that some of your friends could have been killed," he said.
Right away, he remembered the Northampton went into battle conditions. They returned to the open sea and waited for orders.
"We were in 13 major engagements with the enemy," he said.
In June, Tommy's ship engaged in the Battle of Midway Island and defeated an attacking Imperial Japanese Navy fleet.
He recalled one mission, where he was manning a 50-caliber machine gun, with fellow gunners on either side of him.
"This airplane that is coming towards me and it's firing its gun," he said. "So these two guys on the side of me, he shot them and I'm still standing there."
He said he watched the men beside him get killed and wondered why he didn't get shot in the crossfire.
"Why I survived I had no idea," he said.
Not only did Tommy survive that, he also lived through two plane crashes and the sinking of the U.S.S. Northampton in the Battle of Tassafargona.
While in the water, he saved a life.
"I heard somebody hollering for help," he explained. "So I swam over to them and it was my cousin!"
Tommy got his cousin onto something floating in the water and then waited until daylight to be rescued.
He said during his four years of service, he never allowed himself any fear.
"I've always felt that if you have fear then you would do something that may be detrimental to your mission, " he said.
And as tough as his missions were, he was and remains a patriotic World War II veteran who is honored for being able to serve his country.