His ship under attack by Japanese aircraft and submarines in the waters off Okinawa, a young seaman feared for his life.
It was 1945, during the final months of World War II.
Elijah McKelvin, an African-American drafted into a segregated United States military, survived the attack, along with his shipmates. But it’s forever etched in his psyche.
“I was 18 years old,” recalled McKelvin, now 91, of Massapequa. “It was frightening.”
He and dozens of other veterans were honored Saturday at a Suffolk County event marking Armed Forces Day.
“We gather today to recognize everyone who is serving right now . . . who are helping to keep the world safe,” County Executive Steve Bellone, an Army veteran, said outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.
“The fact that we have men and women willing to step up and serve our country means we have a chance for peace,” he said.
During the ceremony wreaths were placed at monuments, and a moment of silence was held for those who sacrificed their lives. Some of the veterans who came donned their old uniforms.
Eric Hesse, a retired Army colonel who heads the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs, gave the keynote address.
“For every soldier, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman who proudly served in the armed forces . . . we thank you for your sacrifice,” he said.
Stony Brook resident Tony Carella, 72, who attended the ceremony, served as an Army radio operator in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. He said many who were drafted, himself included, had no idea what they were being thrust into.
“We were kids, ages 17 to 22. We were naive. But we formed a brotherhood,” he said.
John Digilio, 72, of Bay Shore, worked in a hospital in Vietnam tending to wounded soldiers. He said it’s gratifying to be recognized for his service.
McKelvin, who spent two years in the military, said his service did later open many doors for him, including aid for college under the GI Bill.
“I’m proud to have helped defend our country,” he said.