On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, 21-year-old Andrew Renzullo, was awoken by several loud blasts while sleeping in his bed aboard a submarine at the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor.
At first he thought it was friendly fire. "The army base nearby usually shot off cannons every morning when they raised the flag," Renzullo, now 89, explained as he sat in the kitchen of his home in Malverne. At the time, he assumed the U.S. Army cannons were the cause of the loud booms he heard that morning. Then, he peered outside and learned otherwise.
"All of a sudden we saw these rising suns," he recalled. This was the moment he realized the base was under attack by Japan.
The Imperial Japanese Navy had successfully executed a surprise strike on the U.S. fleet, using a total of 353 aircraft that were launched in two waves from six aircraft carriers. When the nearly two-hour-long bombardment finally ceased, Japan had sunk four U.S. Navy battleships, damaged four others, and destroyed 188 U.S. aircraft, along with a handful of cruisers and destroyers.
Over 2,400 soldiers and personnel lay dead and more than 1,200 were left badly wounded. The day is a blur to Andrew Renzullo, marked by mass chaos, confusion, sounds of men trapped inside submarines screaming for help and images of young lives ending much too soon.
Renzullo had only been in the service for 11 months when he found himself in the middle of one of the most defining moments of World War II, the attack that spurred the United States to enter into the war.
Earlier that year, when he was only 20 years old, Renzullo enlisted in the Navy as an electricians mate and was assigned to the USS Plunger-179 submarine. He had always had an interest in pursuing a career as an electrician and when his uncle suggested he joined the Navy, he used this as an opportunity to hone his skills, while serving his country.
While aboard the USS Plunger, Renzullo and his crew of about 85 sailors, helped resuce a Naval Aviator, sunk over 50 Japanese ships, and became the first U.S. submarine to be depth-charged by Japan.
Then, after six dedicated years of service, Renzullo returned to his home in Cedarhurst with the rank of Chief Petty Officer. There, he began the next chapter of his life, working as an electrician with the Local Union No. 3 and falling in love with his dream girl.
"I met a beautiful girl and got married, " Renzullo said. He and his wife, Cleo, then moved to Malverne, a place they have called home for the past 56 years.
"I love this place," Renzullo said. "It's a nice community, it's safe and it hasn't changed."
The couple raised their two children, Patricia and Ernest here, and were later blessed with two grandkids, Jessica and Raymond. Renzullo became very active in the local American Legion Post 44, devoting over 50 years to helping other veterans through the organization and even serving as its commander in the late 1960s.
"I used to march in the parade, but can't anymore," said Renzullo, who is now retired and will be celebrating his 90th birthday this spring.
"We're just very fortunate he came home from the war," his wife, Cleo, said. "He was one of the lucky ones."
Renzullo added, "Many guys did not."