It was the first day of a three-day pass the now 95-year-old former Army corporal had been granted on that fateful day and he was anxious to get going as he had a date with a Hawaiian girl.
Yes, it would be a memorable day, but by no means a pleasant one as just hours later, President Franklin Roosevelt told Congress in his declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, it would be a “date that will live in infamy.”
Already dressed in civilian clothes and ready to leave on his pass, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native, who had been trained as an anti-aircraft gunner before arriving in Hawaii, was third in the breakfast chow line at 5:45 a.m. that Sunday.
“We started hearing explosions in the Pearl Harbor area behind the mountains from where we were but thought the Navy was just practicing,” he said, as he recalled events recently before the 72nd anniversary of the attack.
It was then an Army captain in a Jeep came speeding toward the area in which Santangelo was awaiting breakfast, screeched to a halt, fired his .45-caliber pistol in the air and yelled at the men in the chow line to fall out, get to the ammunition depot area, grab helmets, rifles and ammunition and hit the beach to prepare for an invasion.
“We had no idea what was going on,” Santangelo said.
Just then, he and the others looked up and saw a plane flying low over the area.
“When he made a wide turn, it was then we saw the bright red zero on side of the aircraft and knew we were under attack,” he said. “Still in my civilian clothes, I ran to the ammunition dump, grabbed a rifle, strapped on two ammunition belts, put on a helmet and ran to the beach.”
After attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese planes attacked Hickam Field and strafed the barracks Santangelo had been in just few minutes before, killing 15 men.
“I think of those guys who were gunned down often but especially on each anniversary of the attack,” he said.
“They were killed outright and didn’t even know there was a war on.”
Lying on the beach firing rifles at the approaching Japanese planes, Santangelo and those with him were credited with shooting down three attacking planes.
Following the attack, he went on to serve in the Fuji Islands and other areas of the Pacific during the war.