4 Our Veterans: The teenage soldier who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor

4 Our Veterans
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FRANKLIN, Ind.-- There might be fewer than 2,000 Pearl Harbor survivors still alive, and CBS4 found one in Franklin.

Dr. Phil Clinger was just a teenager when he was thrust into the most infamous and deadliest military attack on U.S. soil.

To join the Army on the brink of the second world war, Clinger had to lie about his age.

"I said I was 21 'cause you had to be 21 to go in without your parents' permission," he said.

He was actually 16 years old.

It's been nearly 78 years since Dec. 7, 1941. Clinger still vividly remembers what a boy fresh out of boot camp witnessed at Pearl Harbor.

"At breakfast I heard 'boom, boom.' Looked down towards Honolulu, which was about 20 miles away, and saw black smoke rolling up," he said.

Clinger remembers he and his fellow troops prepared for a possible Japanese land invasion, only to look helplessly on as two waves of surprise air attacks killed 2,400 U.S. service members and civilians.

From the ground, they launched a meager defense - firing rifles at dozens of enemy fighters streaking over their barracks.

"You had to shoot ahead of it to hit the plane," Clinger recalled. "And if we hit it or not - we don't know."

The attack was the start of years of combat.

Clinger was awarded a Star for battling in Pearl Harbor and three more for battles in the South Pacific.

"And then a good conduct medal for behaving myself," he said with a laugh.

After Pearl Harbor, Clinger went on to fight in three more Pacific battles, one in New Guinea and two invasions in the Philippines. After all of that, he said he'd seen enough.

He left the service and eventually settled in Rochester, Indiana, where he worked as a veterinarian and later, a meat inspector.  He and Caroline, his wife of 67 years, raised three boys before they retired in Franklin.

When asked what it means to him when people say, "Thank you for your service,"  Clinger responded, “They appreciate it. To take time out for your life - to serve them and their families,” he said with fondness.

“It makes a life worthwhile living.”

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