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Vernon Herod, 90, displays a sketch book of his art showing President Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon from inside his apartment in Collegedale.

Pressing his feet against the gunwale and his back against a machine gun mount as the Pacific Ocean rose to overturn the American destroyer USS Bristol, Petty Officer Vernon Herod made a deep connection with God.

It was Aug. 5, 1945, the day before the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the USS Bristol was among the vessels in the Third Fleet that were clearing mines from the waters off the coast of Japan in advance of the coming invasion.

But the Bristol and an oil tanker, the USS Ashtabula, collided that day.

The 91-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, who could not swim, said all the crew except for him fled for the ship's stern. Herod moved to his machine gun post, where he said he went through the ordeal alone with only the company of God.

Bio:

Name: Vernon Herod

Age: 91

Home: Collegedale, Tenn.

Military branch and rank: U.S. Navy, petty officer

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Vernon Herod, 90, exits the front door at his apartment in Collegedale. Herod served in the Navy from 1944 until 1946.

"On reaching my battle station to secure my life jacket, I became trapped in a V-position between the outside railing and the gun mount," Herod read from an account of the incident he wrote a few years ago. "The greater the list of the ship, then the more I became trapped." He noted Bristol reached a 45-degree angle in the collision, the widely accepted point at which such vessels capsize.

All Herod could do was watch the dark ocean rise over the first deck's port side and wait for death, he said.

"I knew now that I only had seconds of time to live," Herod read, his voice breaking and tears welling in his eyes.

Another "thrust" started forcing the ship over.

"The water came up and up and then immediately everything turned pitch black as God, mama, home, came before me," he read. "I cried out, 'Oh, God.'"

With the utterance, Herod felt a sudden vibration, rocking the ship back and forth. The anchor had shaken loose and snagged in the tanker, stoping the Bristol from capsizing. He never reached his life jacket.

"God was the real hero, in the form of an anchor," he said. Herod said he didn't understand how God had intervened until recent years.

Herod called the righting of the ship a miracle.

On the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Herod's family was holding a family reunion in Oak Ridge, where work on the atomic bomb would take place. Herod now draws a connection between that day, the work in Oak Ridge, and the day Hiroshima was bombed as bookends for a period in his life that made his relationship with God what it is today.

Herod, who volunteered for the Navy in 1944 at 17 years old, served his entire tour on the USS Bristol after training in the U.S.

He still becomes emotional when he thinks of his last day on the USS Bristol, where he had slept with projectiles over his head and powder cases at his feet.

"I went up to the officer of the day and I saluted him, and I turned around and I saluted the flag on the stern. Then I turned around and I didn't look back," Herod said.

"I cried. It was just like leaving home. It was my home."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www. facebook.com/benbenton1.

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