BELLEVILLE - When Donald Conner was a young man, he dreamed of being up in the air.
During his formative years, he worked as a farm hand, often laboring 15 to 16 hours a day. It was during these long and arduous hours that he noticed planes flying overhead and often thought to himself, "I'd sure like to be up there someday."
It was during one of these observations that he had an epiphany.
Sentinel photo by DUSTY SIPES
Donald Conner, 93, of Belleville, was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Following the attack he was placed on guard duty with only an old, rusty shotgun and 12 shells.
"I kind of woke up and asked myself, why am I doing all this hard work for $20 a month when I can join the service and work eight hours a day and enjoy some freedom?" With this realization, Conner joined the Air Corps. in 1940.
At the time rumors of a draft were already beginning to circulate and Conner felt that he too would eventually be summoned.
Conner was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and he spent his days training as an aircraft mechanic.
After completing mechanics classes he was assigned to a squadron and was given an aircraft to repair . His brief training would come to a close on Dec. 7, 1941, as Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor.
"We kept hearing about the possibility of the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor, but we didn't believe it. The Saturday before, Dec. 6, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's headline said that Japan may strike over the weekend," Conner said.
At the time, every Saturday there was a parade in Hickam Field, and Dec. 6 was no different.
"During the parades they lined all of our planes in a row along the hangars. And of course, we had places to park so that they couldn't attack too hard. All they needed to do was come down and strike us, and that's exactly what they did," Conner said. "On the morning of Dec. 7 I was getting up for breakfast and I heard a blast. I looked out the window and saw that a Japanese plane, a 'red ball,' had dropped a bomb on the hub of the buildings, the dining room was in the center.
"That's what they hit first. I knew immediately what was going on. There were quite a few people killed there," Conner said.
Conner sought refuge in the engineering office because it was the only building that was deemed bombproof. It was the next building hit. He said he only "got the dust."
"After the strikes appeared to stop I went with two other officers to look at the hangar to see the damage. It was then we looked up and saw another plane coming in," Conner said.
Conner laid down to avoid being stuck by the incoming plane. He was uninjured during the incoming attack but the other two officers were struck.
After the attack subsided, Conner was placed on guard duty in the "middle of nowhere" for 30 days until reinforcement planes were delivered to the base. His only weapon was an old, rusty shotgun and 12 shells. Conner was later stationed in Japan as a GI soldier.
Upon returning to the United States, Conner was stationed in Washington D.C., where he trained and learned to fly with the United States Air Corps .
Conner said he briefly considered a career in the military but ultimately decided to fly domestically.
"My wife told me she didn't like the idea of a military career," Conner said. "We got married between enlistments and I told her if she didn't like it, I would quit. So I did."
Conner recently celebrated his 93rd birthday and lives a quiet life. He currently resides at Valley View Retirement Community, in Belleville.