You may not know the name Milton Mapou, but the Central Ohio native was an American hero and a treasure to those who knew him. Mapou was present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched their deadly attack. Since then, he’s been a link to the tragic events of that fateful morning for the generations that came after.
Milton Mapou passed away on January 17, 2019, at the age of 97.
At the time of his passing, Mapou was one of the last known Pearl Harbor survivors in Central Ohio. As survivors of the attack grow older, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pinpoint exactly how many are left. Fewer of them appear at Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremonies and make the public appearances they were known for making even just a few years ago. Milton Mapou was an active volunteer at Motts Military Museum in suburban Columbus for many years, and made a trip to Oahu for the 75th anniversary of the attack.
Mapou’s memories help preserve the history of the Pearl Harbor attack, and though he’s passed on, his service to the nation won’t be forgotten. During a 2017 interview with Columbus television station WCMH, Mapou talked about that long-ago Sunday, when he was in the middle of eating breakfast when a series of explosions startled him. Serving aboard the light cruiser USS Detroit (CL-8), when the loud booms distracted him from his meal, he ran topside and immediately noticed the rising sun insignia—he called them “meatballs”—marking the planes flying overhead.
Mapou recalled how futile it was to try and fight back as the machine guns and ammunition were locked away The young sailor and many of his fellow crew members were defenseless against the Japanese attack until they broke open the ammunition lockers, enabling them to down several planes. Mapou recalled one pilot who flew so low overhead that he could make out the smile on his face.
Despite a few close calls, Milton Mapou made it through the attack unharmed, but that was only the beginning of the War in the Pacific. For the next four years, he diligently served his nation. In 1945, Mapou was serving on the destroyer USS Pringle (DD-477) in the Philippines when a kamikaze struck the ship’s aft deckhouse. Stationed at one of the 5″ guns, the sailor was struck by shrapnel in the back of his head. Pringle and Mapou returned to service, until another kamikaze crashed into the destroyer’s bridge, splitting her in two. Despite sustaining a serious leg injury, Mapou survived the sinking of his ship.
In 1946, Milton Mapou was discharged due to his injuries. For his service, he was awarded two Purple Hearts and 10 Battle Stars. Though he was part of the action at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack, he never returned until the 75th anniversary in 2016, to pay his respects to the men who gave their lives that day. The trip to Oahu was made possible by the Motts Military Museum, who held a fundraiser for the veteran and his wife.
As his friends and family bid farewell to Mapou, the memories of his heroism at Pearl Harbor and throughout the war that followed won’t soon be forgotten. A grateful nation wishes him fair winds and following seas.