Henri Grenier had just completed morning physical training and gotten into line for morning chow — just like any other morning.
He discussed the day’s to-do list with a fellow private of the 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment, Wolfhounds.
It was a clear, beautiful day on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
“Just another day in paradise,” Grenier said. “We were just waiting to eat and get on with our day — just like any other day.”
But it wasn’t any other day; it was Dec. 7, 1941 — the day that has lived in infamy.
Grenier, 93, was lauded at the sixth annual Star Group-Veterans Helping Veterans Independence Day Celebration on Saturday for his service during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Running for cover
On that fateful day 73 years ago, nobody knew the low-flying aircraft were, in fact, Japanese Zero fighters swooping in for a surprise attack until they saw the bombs start falling, Grenier said.
“At first we thought the American pilots were just being silly by doing a fly-over,” he said. “When I saw the first bomb drop from the plane, I knew it wasn’t a game.”
As soon as the explosions began, Grenier, along with the rest of his unit, ran for cover.
Once what seemed like hundreds of planes had completed the first run, the soldiers sprinted to their unit control center to prepare for a possible invasion.
On the way, Grenier witnessed the carnage at Pearl Harbor.
“I saw the ships fighting back. They didn’t give an inch to the Japanese,” he said. “I saw the Arizona. It was bad.”
Like any soldier, Marine, sailor or airman, Grenier did not allow the bloodshed to control him. He was scared, but he had a job to do.
“We began to build defensive structures on the beaches,” he said. “We built machine-gun pill boxes, trenches, and placed wire. We really thought they were going to invade Hawaii.”
The Japanese did not invade. Instead the Japanese fleet spent the following two days engrossed in a full-scale battle with the remnants of the American Pacific fleet that saw a huge loss of lives and ships from both sides.
Grenier, who spent 34 years in the Army, was eventually deployed to many of the Pacific theater’s toughest battles, from Guadalcanal to the Philippines.
The retired first-sergeant was 17 when he enlisted and needed his mother’s permission to join. He felt it was the place for him to be. He belonged in the Army, he said.
After World War II, Grenier continued servings during two tours in the Korean and Vietnam wars, twice earning the Purple Heart.
“I did what I was supposed to do, what so many others did,” he said. “I just happened to be one of the lucky ones who lived through it.”
Despite the honor the Star Group-Veterans Helping Veterans gave him, Grenier was emphatic about not deserving any recognition for what he did.
“I did what anyone else would have done, what so many did,” he said. “I don’t deserve any of this.”
Contact James Harper at email@example.com or 254-501-7554.