AURORA, Colo. -- Ninety-four years is a long time to live by any measure. But Tom Petso of Aurora seemed invincible -- like he'd keep on going forever. After all, he had survived Pearl Harbor.
But the shrinking number of heroes who outlived that day is now smaller by one. Petso died over the weekend after a short illness.
Two months ago, Petso was all smiles, signing autographs in Honolulu on the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
“Just scared the hell out of me honestly,” Petso said late last year. “You're frightened, you're a kid, you know. And here all of the sudden they're shooting at you. And they didn't stop."
Petso was just 19 and stationed at nearby Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu, getting ready to play a Sunday morning football game on Dec. 7, 1941.
“At 7:30 a.m., we started the football game, and at 8 a.m., we looked up in the sky. My God it was a fleet of Japanese. We knew they weren't our planes. They were coming right down, and they blew up those planes in no time,” Petso said.
Petso has returned to Pearl Harbor many times over the years, revisiting the places of his youth. The places where 2,300 service members were killed, and another 1,100 wounded on that day of infamy. The attack, he says, put the fear of God in him.
“I became a fairly religious person at the time and I realized the Lord is looking out for me or I wouldn't be here today,” Petso said.
At 94, Petso was the picture of health. He worked out every day and was proud of that.
Even so, just a few weeks ago he said he wasn't sure how many more Pearl Harbor anniversaries he'd be around for. But he knew every year -- for the last 75 years -- was a bonus. And he never took that for granted.
“Sometimes I'm just thankful I'm alive. Honest to God, I thank Jesus. I could've been killed very easily that morning," he said.
To learn more about Petso, visit The Greatest Generations Foundation.AlertMe