ATWATER — Frank Paredes has seen and lived through what many people will see only in war movies.
The 92-year-old Atwater resident is a Pearl Harbor survivor and a World War II veteran. He joined the Army in 1941 when he was 21 years old and served until 1953. "I picked up the dead and wounded," he recalled on a recent afternoon. "I still have nightmares, but there's nothing I can do."
Paredes has countless stories about what he went through while fighting for this country decades ago. He doesn't remember the specific dates for most of his experiences. But there are two dates he can't forget: the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and the Easter Sunday in 1944 when he killed 18 young Japanese soldiers.
Paredes remembers that a lot of the Japanese soldiers in combat were only about 16 and 17 years old. He said they were kids compared to him, because he was already in his early 20s. "I got trained to kill. I'm not proud of what I did, but I had to do it to survive," he said. "You had a mission to perform and get it done, so that's what we did."
Sometimes when Paredes was in the middle of a fight he didn't have time to think about or react to the horrible things he was witnessing. "When you're in combat you are so busy trying to survive that everything goes blank," he said.
Paredes always feared for his life. "I prayed all the time," he said.
Among other experiences he went through, he had to eat horse meat to survive, lived in the jungle for four months after the ship transporting him was sunk and was in hand-to-hand combat twice.
Paredes, whose family has a long military history, was one of those fortunate enough to come back home. "They call me a hero. I'm not a hero," he said. "The heroes are the ones who were left behind."