Bill May

Bill May, who worked for decades in the kitchen at Sonoma Developmental Center and was current president of the association of Sonoma and Lake county survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor, died Friday.

May, a former Navy cook who planned to roast turkeys aboard the repair ship USS Medusa as the first bombs and torpedoes exploded at Pearl Harbor, drawing the U.S. into World War II, was 91.

One of the Santa Rosa resident's two daughters, Victoria May, also of Santa Rosa, said he spoke little about Pearl Harbor or World War II until America suffered another devastating surprise attack in September 2011.

As the terrorist calamity brought back old memories, Bill May started to talk more about the horrors of war he witnessed during the three-day battle over the island of Tarawa. Quickly, more than 6,000 Japanese, Koreans and Americans perished there.

"It wasn't until 9/11 that he opened up about that," Victoria May said of her father.

"He said that (the battle of Tarawa) was the worst thing he'd ever seen. He said that would always haunt him."

Bill May was born in September 1922 in Newport, Ark. A child of the Great Depression, he joined the Navy as soon as he was able.

He was assigned as a cook aboard the battleship USS Arizona but sometime prior to Dec. 7, 1941, was reassigned to the Medusa, the first U.S. Navy ship built specifically as a repair vessel.

May assumed he would have died had he not been transferred off the Arizona. More than 1,100 sailors — nearly half of the attack's American casualties — died in the bomb explosions that ravaged the Arizona.

May told his family that aboard the Medusa that infamous Hawaiian Sunday morning he planned to roast thawed turkeys, but the birds went bad as the ship's crew returned fire to the attacking Japanese planes.

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