Pikeville native Sam Roberson was in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.
Shell casings dropped all around him, but the little tugboat on which he served never took a direct hit.
Roberson had enlisted in the U.S. Navy following his 1935 graduation from Bledsoe County High School. He was involved in mid-Pacific warfare before being sent to a warrant officers' radio electrician school in Washington, D.C., in the 1940s.
He has been an outdoor writer since the 1950s, and he continues to enjoy the outdoors and to be honored for his work. Living now in Lobelville in western Middle Tennessee, Roberson got two Excellence in Craft awards at this year's Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association meeting in Camden.
The weekend he celebrated his 91st birthday, he received both first- and second-place recognition in the column/feature writing category -- and caught a stringer of bluegill and crappie in Kentucky Lake.
Roberson was widowed after 26 years and has been married a second time for 25. He and Annie only recently gave up a lifestyle of motorhome travel. Before meeting her, he traveled for a while with his dog and another colorful outdoor writer, the late Jack Austin.
Roberson was part of a family of eight boys and two girls. The only surviving sibling, Pete Roberson, still lives on his farm in Pikeville.
"My mother had seven stars in her window," Sam said, noting that four brothers and both brothers-in-law also were in the military. "All of us returned home without a scratch."
He had a grueling 5,000-mile journey from the Philippines to the school in Washington. It took a month to get as far as Honolulu aboard a crippled Merchant Marine ship.
"It was like a cripple-minnow lure," he recalled. "It could only travel at about six knots. If it went any faster, you couldn't stand it."
Then came an all-night 2,300-mile flight from Honolulu to San Francisco on a DC-9 with no heat, followed by a cross-country train ride.
"It took us four or five days to get to Philadelphia from Frisco," Roberson said. "They had a coal stove at each end of the car. It was dusty and dirty and overcrowded. When I went to the dining car, all they had was cold macaroni, so we would hop off the train when it had to stop, running to the nearest restaurant to get warm food."
Roberson got out of the Navy on April 1, 1946, and went to work for the Civil Air Patrol.
That took him to Juneau, Alaska, where eventually he hooked up with a bush airline company. When the fleet was taken over by Alaska Airlines and the owner wanted him to move to Seattle, he opted for a position in missile testing at Arguello Missile Base near Santa Maria, Calif. While there, he talked to John Glenn while the astronaut was orbiting the earth.
"He made the first orbit and reported he was over Honolulu," Roberson related, "and then 12 minutes later he was over San Francisco. It had taken me all night to get from Honolulu to San Francisco."
Roberson's writing interest was stirred in Alaska.
"When I first got to Juneau, two or three others and myself became interested in mountain goat hunting," he said. "I would tell the others I was going to write a story about the experience."
His first wife insisted that he get started; she even placed a pencil and paper on the coffee table.
He sold a goat story to American Rifleman magazine, and the editor sent him an application to the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He joined the OWAA and later the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He also united with TOWA and the Kentucky Outdoor Press Association, both of which have granted him lifetime memberships.