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When Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec. 7, 2021, this Gainesville man was there
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Mack Abbott, left, stands with his father, Mathew, and mother, Alice, in 1943, shortly after Abbott returned from Guadalcanal.

This story has been adapted from one first published in The Times in 2010.


Gainesville’s late Mack Abbott witnessed a history-changing event as it flashed by the window of his Marine Corps barracks on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“There was this plane coming out of a bank and I could see two men in there that looked like they were laughing at us,” he told The Times in a 2010 interview, when he was 87 years old. “Then, I saw it was a Japanese plane. I could tell by the red ball on the wing.”

Abbott recalled vividly the Japanese attack that sparked U.S. involvement in World War II.

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Mack Abbott - photo by SARA GUEVARA

“I had decided to get up early and take flying lessons over at the civilian air field,” said Abbott, who had been in the Marines seven months at the time.

“I got back to my room and ... was shooting the breeze with two other guys when all of a sudden, I heard an explosion and looked out the window, which faced the shipyard.”

As the Japanese Zeros zoomed past, Abbott bolted from the room and headed to the base armory.

Abbott, a private first class, met up with a corporal who told him, “You have to have a requisition to get ammunition.”

A sergeant overheard the private’s request and ordered the corporal to hand over ammo and further told him, “We’ll go in the back and uncrate some more,” Abbott said.

The sergeant then turned to Abbott and said, “You get out there and start firing at those guys.”

He went to a parade field and took aim as the invading aircraft flew overhead.

“There was no one else there but me at the time and I started firing as (the planes flew) over. They weren’t higher than this first story here,” Abbott said during an interview at his home at Smoky Springs Retirement Center in Gainesville.

Abbott, whose wartime adventures are chronicled in a book, “First and Last Shots Fired in World War II,” recalled firing a M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle at the Japanese pilots.

“I sat down in a kneeling position so I could pivot,” he said.

Others joined Abbott in shooting at the planes.

“The Navy gave us credit for shooting down three of the 29 planes shot down that day,” he said.

Abbott and another Marine were ordered to go to Naval docks where ships that had been ripped apart by bombs had left sailors in the water.

“They needed us to help those men who were swimming back from ships and get them to a nearby hospital,” he said.

“The hospital got full, so (we were told) to put them in the grass in front of the hospital. They had one nurse out there checking them to see which one would be next to go in.”

After the surprise attack, which killed 2,386 military personnel and civilians, Abbott would go on to serve in the South Pacific, including at Guadalcanal and the invasion of Saipan.

He was on Tinian, an island neighboring Saipan, when the U.S. flew from there to drop atomic bombs on Japan, resulting in Japanese surrender.

While at Tinian, Abbott shot a Japanese soldier who had fired on him first in what Abbott’s commander officer called “the last shot fired” in the war.

After the war, Abbott went on to the University of Houston and later worked for Grinnell, a company that made pipe fittings, valves and other products.

He later moved to Gainesville, first living just off Lake Lanier.

Abbott frequently spoke about his wartime experiences — and he relished the appearances.

“I like to talk to any group that wants me,” he said.

He also has served as grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade in Gainesville, accompanied by other World War II veterans.

As for his role in Pearl Harbor, an event that has had a lasting effect on America, he recalls his own Marine training.

“If you see something wrong, act immediately and don’t ask yourself why,” he said.

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