"He could stretch the truth pretty good," Pfundheller said. "But once you seen him, you knew he wasn't lying."
The 21-year-old Iowa native ran up to the deck that Sunday morning to man a five-inch anti-aircraft gun. Seventy years later, he remembers struggling to shoot low-flying Japanese planes as smoke from burning oil billowed through the air.
"This was the worst thing about it -- yeah, your eyes -- it bothered you. It bothered your throat too, because there was so much of that black smoke rolling around that a lot of times you could hardly see," he said.
Pfundheller, now 91, will be returning to Pearl Harbor on Wednesday for the 70th anniversary ceremony honoring those lost in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that brought the United States into World War II.
Accompanying him will be fellow survivors and a handful of college students eager to hear their stories. The group will be among 3,000 people attending a ceremony the Navy and the National Park Service host jointly each year at a site overlooking where the USS Arizona sank in the attack.
The College of the Ozarks program seeks to preserve the veterans' stories, becoming increasingly urgent for Pearl Harbor survivors; the youngest are in their late 80s now.
Call to duty
Pfundheller said he enlisted in 1939 because he kept hearing there was going to be a war and he wanted to know what to do when fighting started. By the time Japanese fighters and torpedo bombers were over Hawaii, he was well-trained. Even so, the scene was chaotic.
Japan hadn't been expected to strike from the air, so Pfundheller's anti-aircraft ammunition was locked away in a gun locker. When he gained access to the 3-foot-long, 75-pound shells, he said, the enemy planes were flying too close for him to take aim. "You could see them pumping their fists and laughing at you," he said.
The Maryland's crew scrambled to prevent their battleship from going down with the USS Oklahoma, which rolled over after being hit by multiple torpedoes.
Altogether, 2,390 Americans lost their lives. Twelve ships sank or were beached, and nine were damaged. The United States lost 164 aircraft. On the Japanese side, 64 people died, five ships sank, and 29 planes were destroyed.
After the war, Pfundfeller worked as a district feed salesman back in Iowa and became an elementary school custodian. He now lives in Greenfield, j12 miles from Bridgewater, the town where he was raised.
Many veterans didn't talk much about their experiences after World War II, and Pfundheller's own children didn't hear what he went through until he began sharing his stories at schools and libraries.
Pfundheller and four other veterans are traveling with 10 students from the College of the Ozarks, a Christian school in Branson, Mo. After Hawaii, they visit Okinawa, and Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb.
Heather Isringhausen, 21, a senior, said she's never been able to get her grandfather to tell her about his experiences serving in World War II. "If most of the veterans are anything like my grandpa, they probably haven't talked much about it," she said.