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"We had breakfast, and then I went outside to play baseball with the neighborhood boys." Ellie Fernandez said. "As we were playing we looked up and saw all of these planes flying by. They were very low, and then we saw smoke and heard machine guns."

Ellie and her husband Charlie, both Patterson residents, were children growing up in Hawaii when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7th, 1941 - 75 years ago today.

"From where we lived, we could see all of Pearl Harbor, and it was just covered, all in black smoke."

Charlie Fernandez, a farmer who grows organic goods and sells them at the Modesto Farmers Market, remembers the day very clearly.

"We had a country house near the beach right next to the naval air station, which is right next to Pearl Harbor. We had just gone to Sunday mass, and at eight o'clock that church was shaking because the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. My older sister decided we should go home, so she drove us. There were a lot of trees in the area, and we saw a parachute stuck in the trees. None of us knew what was going on."

What Charlie saw next turned out to be one of history's most significant attacks. He witnessed it first-hand.

"When we got home, there were airplanes dogfighting right above us. We just watched them, we saw them crash into the ocean." Navy police then came and ordered Charlie and his family to leave, as the battle raged on. They decided to drive to Charlie's uncle, who lived on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor. Had they arrived any sooner, they would have been in for a bigger scare, as a Japanese Zero crashed just behind his uncle's home. "By the time we got there, the MP's had surrounded the plane." Charlie stated.

Charlie and Ellie Fernandez recount the story from their cozy home in Patterson, where they've lived for the past 23 years. Charlie took a job in the airline industry and followed it to the bay area. Now retired, they have both been favorites at the Modesto Farmer's Market, selling organic produce for at least a dozen years. They say they will never forget the events of that day.

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"We never did go back to the country house," Charlie said "The Navy took over the property. We never saw it again. It was brand new, we had just finished it that weekend. My father fought with them for many years, and they ended up giving him seventy five dollars for the house and the lot."

"We walked to school with gas masks," Ellie explained. "Every so often the school would practice air-raid drills. Just about every home built had an air-raid shelter."

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed life on the islands. Fishing was restricted, and there were blackouts and rationing. Everybody started growing victory gardens.

"You had that kind of feeling that this wasn't your home anymore," explained Ellie. "Because someone came in and gave you that feeling. No matter where you went, even if you went into the movie house."

The movie Pearl Harbor, released many years later, helped Ellie understand the events of that day.

"When it happened, like Charlie said, we were too young to understand. But when I went to see the movie, it showed all the action. I cried, I couldn't watch it. Only then did I really know, the sailors that were on the boats, they didn't make it. Men died horrible deaths. That was really sad."

Besides the war's influence on the islands, the Fernandez' say Hawaii was a wonderful place to grow up.

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Published in Life & Social