by: Sarah Rosario Updated:
MATTHEWS, N.C. - At 99 years old, Wesley Ruth is sharp as a tack.
"We were the first plane off of Pearl Harbor that day," he said.
The retired Navy pilot lives in Matthews now. He was 28 years old at the time of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
"I remember it all," he said.
The pictures in his house tell of his experience, but a Navy Cross is one of the only physical reminders of that day. Ruth was one of 51 officers to receive the Navy's highest honor for bravery. Humbled by the award, Ruth said he was just doing his job.
"I realized because I was the duty officer that I had to get to the hangar right away. That was my big concern," he said.
Ruth said he was eating breakfast when the bombs started hitting. Moments later, he was given orders to find the Japanese planes. Ruth said he and a crew were sent up in a twin-engine plane and given hand rifles to defend themselves.
"I had the feeling at that time that this would be a one-way trip, but fortunately it wasn't," Ruth said.
More than 2,400 people died that day.
Ruth shared his experience by speaking to groups Friday.
Each year on the anniversary of the attack, he hopes the memories of those who died and those who fought are remembered.
"The people who lost their lives, they fought very well," he said.