Joe Giddens was 11 when the Imperial Japanese Navy carried out its surprise attack on U.S. military installations at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.
Growing up "in the cotton patch," as he put it, Giddens lived on a farm near Statesboro. Although he was a child in December 1941, the way that people around him reacted made a lasting memory.
"I just guessed that if the war kept on along, I may have to go in it," Giddens said. "Everybody was sort of scared of the Japanese coming over. They really were."
Giddens remembers hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the radio but doesn't recall what the president said.
"Whenever we heard about Pearl Harbor, I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was," Giddens said.
That was undoubtedly true of many adults as well as children at the time. Hawaii, then a U.S. territory, didn't become a state until 1959, which was 14 years after the war ended. But the name Pearl Harbor was seared into world history by the attack that killed more than 2,400 Americans and wounded more than 1,100 others on Dec. 7, 1941. Roosevelt proclaimed it, "a date which will live in infamy."
The attack came on a Sunday, and Giddens thinks that a lot of what he learned about it he heard the next day at school.
Giddens wasn't old enough to serve during World War II, which ended in 1945, but his older stepbrother, the late Jessie Bunch, joined the U.S. Army, served in Europe and returned home safe, Giddens said.
However, Giddens was motivated to serve as well, and joined the Coast Guard at age 17, two to three years after the war ended.
"I remember I had to get my mother to sign for me to go in," he said.
Giddens served on a cutter, mainly on the East Coast.
He left the Coast Guard after a few years, but then joined the Navy, and retired after 20 years combined in the two seagoing services. So he is a veteran of both the Korean War and Vietnam War periods.
Now 86, he lives at Southern Manor Retirement Inn. He had three children - Joe Giddens Jr., Debra Giddens Brown and the late Alma Giddens Freeman - and has a number of grandchildren.