It’s not every day that we have the honor of welcoming a newcomer to the centenarian club, but William Breland, a Mississippi native, recently achieved that milestone. On July 9, 2018, Breland celebrated his 100th birthday, and while he’s not the only one to do so, the Army Air Corps veteran is among a dwindling group: he’s a survivor of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Early Years

Now living in Ridgeland, Mississippi with his son, John Breland, William was born into a family of poor farmers whose roots in Mississippi stretch back to the early 19th century.

Before enlisting in the military, William Breland began his days waking up at 4 AM and making breakfast for his whole family. He would follow that up by picking cotton with the rest of his family, earning 50 cents a day. These early experiences served to prepare him for a decision he would make a little later in life.

William Breland Enlists

Along with his brother Parley, William Breland enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and found himself stationed at Hickam Field on the island of Oahu. Parley was sent to Wheeler Field, several miles inland. Thankfully, both brothers survived the December 7, 1941 attack, but it left them with a horrifying story to tell.

William Breland served at Hickam Field, shown here during the December 7, 1941 attack

Hickam Field barracks during Pearl Harbor attack

On that Sunday morning, William Breland heard an explosion at Hickam, but at first he assumed it was an unfortunate pilot who was taking part in maneuvers the Navy had been practicing. When more explosions followed, he realized something was wrong and ran to the window to see. He saw the red circles emblazoned on the planes roaring over Pearl Harbor and knew right away what was happening and who was responsible for it.

Knowing there was little they could do to repel the Japanese assault, even as the planes started strafing Hickam, Breland and his fellow soldiers watched helplessly as more than 2,400 Americans were killed. According to William’s son Randy Breland, the soldiers at Hickam had nothing to fight back with, not “even a toothpick to throw at them.”

Life After Pearl Harbor

After surviving Pearl Harbor, Breland continued his service in the Army Air Corps, attaining the rank of major before his retirement in 1960. With his time in the military over, Breland and his family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he worked at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Together with his wife, Dorothy Mangum Breland, William Breland raised four children while living on 80 acres that he and his brother had purchased in 1940, before going to war.

To celebrate his 100th birthday, the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosted a public party on July 14.

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