Decades passed, and the men from the Ward got older and older. Most have died. Only about 20 of the 82 men are alive.
A little more than three months ago, on Aug. 28, researchers from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory sent two exploratory subs down 1,200 feet to look at an object that showed up on sonar. They hoped it was the missing Japanese submarine.
"All of a sudden it appeared out of the murky depths just sitting on the sand," said John Wiltshire, associate director of the University of Hawaii laboratory.
News accounts quickly flashed around the world, and the men from the Ward excitedly called one another.
Willett Lehner, who lives in Stevens Point, Wis., recalls getting a call from a former shipmate now living in Florida.
"They found it! They found it! See, we knew we sank it," Lehner recalled hearing over the phone.
Lehner, 82, never had any doubts. The Ward was patrolling the entrance to Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the destroyer's crew spotted the sub, one of five headed toward the harbor shortly before the attack by Japanese planes that left 2,390 people dead and 1,178 wounded.
The Japanese sub was at the surface when the Ward fired two shots, the first missing but the second striking the sub's conning tower. "I saw it when it got hit, and I saw it when it was going down, and I was sure we had sunk it," Lehner said.
After the war ended, the men from the reserve unit formed the First Shot Naval Vets club in St. Paul in 1947 and have met regularly over the years. They helped get the gun from the Ward brought to St. Paul in 1958, where it now sits on the state Capitol grounds next to the Veterans Service Building.
Every year, the men gather at the gun on Dec. 7, and they did so again at a ceremony Saturday morning.
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