GREENE — Pushing a walker, Pearl Harbor survivor Jim Paradis came into a classroom at Greene Central School on Tuesday.

“Good-looking group,” the retired Air Force major, 94, said with a smile as he sat down to share his story with fifth- and sixth-graders and answer questions.

Principal Pam Doyen invited the World War II survivor because she wanted her students to know why Veterans Day is a holiday.

Born in Norridgewock in 1920, Paradis now lives in Monmouth. He said his parents split up when he was 11, and he was left to care for six siblings before authorities sent the children to foster homes. He ended up with a French-speaking family in Eagle Lake. “They were good to me,” he said.

At 14, he graduated from the eighth grade. “To go to high school they would have had to send me to Fort Kent, 20 miles north.” The family couldn’t afford that, he said. “They said, ‘You graduated from the eighth grade; that’s good enough.’”

He left home and began working as a lumberjack. At 19, he joined the U.S. Army.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he was a medic sergeant in charge of transportation vehicles, including ambulances, at the Army’s Schofield Barracks, 12 miles from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

“I was on guard that morning,” he told students. “I watched the Japanese come over the mountain, a whole flight of them, 36. We had no inkling of what was happening. I said, ‘I wonder what those crazy Marines are doing?’ They were always practicing.”

Within seconds, he understood the planes were Japanese. “It got chaotic.”

Paradis heard the bombs, saw planes diving and plumes of smoke. “They bombed the airfield right next to us,” he said. Some Army Air Force pilots got airborne “and got to be aces.” That meant they shot down three or more planes, he said.

He saw one American pilot fly above him “with a Japanese plane shooting right behind him. The shells fell on the ground all around me. … A lot of people got killed. I lost one ambulance driver.”

He wasn’t hurt on that day or during the war. “I was lucky,” Paradis said, a statement he repeated. He worked to find ambulance drivers to transport the wounded to the hospital. Just before the attack, “we were on alert for two weeks. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere. Saturday morning, they let everybody loose.”

As the United States joined the war, the Air Force needed more pilots. Eager to fight the Japanese, Paradis passed a written exam and was sent to flying school in Arizona. Before the war ended, he was leading bombing missions over Japan, flying a B-29.

On one mission, his plane was seriously damaged. “Our airplane got all shot up, but we didn’t,” he said. Despite some 300 bullet holes in the plane, “we made it back in one piece.”

After the war, he stayed in the Air Force working as a flight instructor and test pilot. “I figured I could fly any plane,” he said with a smile. He’s proud that everyone who flew with him always came back. “We crashed a couple of times, but nobody got hurt.”

One student asked what it feels like to fly. “It’s wonderful,” Paradis said. “I love flying.”

Boys asked what kind of weapons he had. The B-29 had machine guns; the B-36 had cannons, Paradis said.

Was he ever scared?

Yes, he said. “I was apprehensive.”

Sixth-grade teacher Nancy Flick said students had studied World War II. “They were absolutely thrilled with listening to his stories,” Flick said. “They were amazed he was there. It’s history they read about in books. He brought it to life for them.”

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