Pearl Harbor Veteran Bud Montagne Dies

Steve Inskeep has a remembrance of Bud Montagne, the late father of Morning Edition most Renee Montagne. Bud Montagne died Saturday night.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now let's remember a veteran of a very different war. Arthur Bernard Montagne died over the weekend. Seventy years ago he was a sailor: a U.S. Navy radio operator on the Battleship California, which was anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was the morning of December 7th, 1941.

ARTHUR BERNARD MONTAGNE: And I could look out and see the Japanese planes, which were just airplanes to me. And I thought it was just a drill that nobody told us about.

INSKEEP: Bud Montagne was a 20-year-old sailor from Iowa. He'd joined the Navy because he couldn't afford college in the Great Depression. So in 1941, he stood on an upper deck of the battleship, watching those mysterious planes.

BERNARD MONTAGNE: I saw two of them approaching us just about the level of my eyes across the harbor. And they obviously were two torpedo planes. And about half the distance across the harbor, they each dropped their torpedo. Then I started watching the rivulets of the torpedoes coming and approaching the ship. And then finally they disappeared from my view and a fraction of a second later they hit the side of our ship.

INSKEEP: Decades later, Bud Montagne told his story on this program. He said he expected to die at Pearl Harbor. He thought he would never get married, never have kids. It's almost a feeling of tranquility, he recalled - this is it.

Instead, Montagne survived, swimming away from his sinking ship in the oily water. He served on another battleship, then became an officer in the U.S. Marines, earning a Bronze Star in the Korean War.

Along the way, he did get married, spending 64 years with his wife Ellene. He did have kids. One of his three children is Renee Montagne, co-host of this program.

Bud Montagne became an engineer, working on projects as far afield as the island of Saipan and Saudi Arabia. And the kid who couldn't afford college in the Depression went to night school as an adult, earning a law degree.

He lived to the age of 90, one of 16 million Americans who served in World War II. Fewer than two million are still with us.

His family was by his side in California when he died at home on Saturday. And that day, the family discovered a few pages of writing in the house. He'd written an account of his life, including an image from his early days in the Navy.

It was from before Pearl Harbor, when Bud Montagne was young man with so many possibilities. He was standing high on a battleship, looking out across the white-capped sea.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: He wrote, I could look down and watch the ship's bow dip deep into the waves and scoop water across the decks, while steaming through a Pacific storm.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, Host:

And I'm David Greene.

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