Over the weekend, I had the honor and privilege of meeting a small group of veterans from World War II who served aboard the USS West Virginia, known as the “WeeVee”. Two of them were onboard at Pearl Harbor when the ship was bombed and sank. Others served on the battleship later in the war after it was floated, repaired and sent back to war.
The group, down to about 11 men, expects this to be their last reunion meeting. They are all getting up in age and wanted their last meeting to be in West Virginia. I’ve always been interested in history, war history and West Virginia history so when I saw the men were coming to Charleston with their families it naturally caught my attention. But there was also a closer connection.
My daughters’ great grandfather (on their mother’s side) Anthony “Tony” Sereno was on board the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor. He survived the attack by jumping into the sea and swimming ashore on Ford Island. His family in Richwood, West Virginia learned that he was missing in action by telegram. It wasn’t until 18 days later, on Christmas Day, that they learned Tony was alive and well. Tony was about six months short of finishing up his commitment to the Navy when Japan attacked. He ended up getting extended until after the war finally ended in 1945. As one of the only sailors who was actually from West Virginia on board the battleship at the time, Tony is also featured in a video about World War II that runs on a loop in the West Virginia Culture Center museum.
Unfortunately, Tony passed away last summer at the age of 94. My daughters got to spend quite a bit of time with Tony, though, and were very close to him. I tell them all the time how lucky they are to have known their great grandparents. When I told the girls where we were going on Saturday, they were excited. For them, it was a chance to meet with others who had done the same things as Tony and a chance to reconnect with him. We spent about 45 minutes there talking to Syl Puccio, one of the Pearl Harbor survivors. We bought a ship’s hat and the girls had Mr. Puccio sign it for them. Mr. Puccio recently received the Navy and Marine Corps commendation for his heroic actions that day and is credited with saving hundreds of lives on board. It is entirely possible Tony lived through the attack because of Mr. Puccio’s actions. Talk about life coming full circle, even if it took 71 years.
If you’re interested in learning more about the group or the battleship USS West Virginia, visit the group’s website.
In 2006, I wrote and published a short story called Pearl Harbor Christmas, based on Tony’s experiences at Pearl Harbor. It is free to download and read. The girls and I took a copy of the story that included a picture of Tony and the one above of them looking at the video loop, and presented it to the group as well.