Veterans Voices: Reflecting on World War II, attack on Pearl Harbor

Veterans Voices

MARS HILL, N.C. (WJHL)- From the comfort a recliner chair at home in Mars Hill, North Carolina, 100 year-old Harley Jolley remembers his remarkable front row seat to world history.

“Those were unbelievable times,” Jolley said with a flash in his eyes revealing a memory of days gone by.

Born July 5th 1920 in Caldwell County North Carolina, Jolley spent his early years with little knowledge of the world beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.    

As a young adult, he escaped the suffocating poverty of The Great Depression by traveling the country in the Civilian Conservation Corp doing a variety of jobs including making maps and trimming trees.

“These are things that just don’t seem possible,” he said.  “But I did it and I survived it.”

Survival skills came in handy on December 7, 1941.  By then, he’d joined the Army Air Corp.  And that morning, Jolley was in his barracks at Hickam Air Force Base, Pearl Harbor Hawaii.

“We were sound to sleep,” he said.   And then, “Boom boom boom Gunfire.  Big Time gunfire.  I remember somebody said, ‘There goes that damn Navy again.'”

His flash second assumption – “That the Navy was practicing.  Aiming and firing.  That sort of thing.”

But it wasn’t a practice.  It was an attack that, within minutes, killed more than 2,400 US personnel.

“The worst thing that happened was that when the ships were hit, they leaked oil and that led to fire.  You can imagine what that combination would do.”

“It was the sort of thing you don’t remember and yet you do remember,” he said.

Next, service took him to Europe where he served until victory was won and decided that, after the war, he’d use the G.I. Bill to learn about the world he’d traveled in the fog of war.

“That was one of the greatest benefits that the world has ever provided for me, to get an education where you’d never had a chance at it before.”

Years brought a family and a distinguished career.  Dr. Harley Jolley became one of Mars Hill University’s most distinguished professors and a fixture on the Blue Ridge Parkway as a renowned interpreter for the US Park Service.

“It just has a beauty of its own,” he said.

Looking back on a century of living, Harley Jolley makes a confident conclusion.

“How lucky can a man be,” he said.

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