HONOLULU - Clarence Pfundheller was standing in front of his locker on the USS Maryland when a fellow sailor told him they were being bombed by Japanese planes.
"We never did call him a liar but he could stretch the truth pretty good," Pfundheller said. "But once you seen him, you knew he wasn't lying."
The 21-year-old Iowa native ran up to the deck that Sunday morning to man a five-inch antiaircraft gun. Seventy years later, he remembers struggling to shoot low-flying Japanese planes as smoke from burning oil billowed.
"This was the worst thing about it - yeah, your eyes - it bothered you. It bothered your throat, too, because there was so much of that black smoke rolling around that a lot of times you could hardly see," he said.
Now 91, Pfundheller will return to Pearl Harbor on Wednesday for the 70th anniversary ceremony honoring those lost in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that brought the United States into World War II.
With him will be fellow survivors, other World War II veterans, and a handful of college students eager to hear their stories. The student and veteran group will be among 3,000 people attending a ceremony the Navy and the National Park Service host jointly each year at a site overlooking where the USS Arizona sank in the attack.
The College of the Ozarks program aims to preserve the stories of veterans - an increasingly urgent task, as the youngest Pearl Harbor survivors are in their late 80s.
Altogether, 2,390 Americans lost their lives in the attack. Twelve ships sank or were beached, and nine were damaged. The United States lost 164 aircraft. On the Japanese side, 64 people died, five ships sank, and 29 planes were destroyed.
After the war, Pfundfeller returned to Iowa, where he worked as a district feed salesman and became an elementary school custodian.
Many veterans didn't talk much about their experiences after World War II, and Pfundheller's own children didn't hear what he went through until he began sharing his stories at schools and libraries.
"People in the Midwest where I lived - why, you just went back, got your job and went to work and nobody asked anything," he said.
Today, efforts are under way to make sure stories like his are handed down.
Pfundheller and four other World War II veterans are traveling to Hawaii with 10 students from the College of the Ozarks, a Christian school in Branson, Mo. After Hawaii, the group will travel to Japan to visit Okinawa, where the United States and Japan fought a brutal battle in the last few months of the war, and Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb.
Heather Isringhausen, 21, a senior who will be one of Pfundheller's two student escorts, said she wanted to join the trip in part because she's never been able to get her grandfather to tell her about his experiences serving in World War II. She wants to know what the veterans were thinking at the time, and what life was like in the 1940s.
"If most of the veterans are anything like my grandpa, they probably haven't talked much about it," Isringhausen said. "Once they're gone, all we'll have left are history books and movies and different tales that people have been told and written down."
Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service's chief historian for Pearl Harbor, said the program fits in with the theme of this year's events: how the legacy of Pearl Harbor will be carried on by future generations. But he lamented more survivors aren't alive to tell their stories.