Remember Pearl Harbor – 69 years ago

December 7, 2010 09:26

Each year, fewer and fewer of the men who witnessed the December 7, 1941 attack in person and survived, gather in Hawaii to “Remember Pearl Harbor,” a cry that united a nation for one the most difficult wars in its history.

The Americano

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date that will live in infamy – the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

– Address to Congress, Dec. 8, 1941 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

On Tuesday, the United States will commemorate the 69th anniversary of the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Congress would be “a date that will live in infamy.” The day naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Each year, fewer and fewer of the men who witnessed the December 7, 1941 attack in person and survived, gather in Hawaii to “Remember Pearl Harbor,” a cry that united a nation for one the most difficult wars in its history. Most of those who make the pilgrimage are in their 90s now.

On Sunday, the Honolulu Star Advertiser brought into focus what will take place on the island and in the new section of the USS Arizona Memorial to be opened this week. The newspaper mentions the story of some of those who will not be present at this year’s ceremonies.

John Finn, who shot back at enemy planes at Kaneohe Bay with a heavy machine gun, was wounded more than 20 times and received the Medal of Honor, died at the age of 100 on May 27.

Jim Bounds remembered getting hit by multiple torpedoes on the battleship Oklahoma, the big ship rolling over, and being pulled out a day and a half after the attack. Bounds died Sept. 3 at the age of 88.

Out of a crew of 1,511 on the USS Arizona, only 334 survived, according to the National Park Service. Just 20 are still living, Don Stratton, one of those crew members, said recently.

But even as the number of survivors able to come back to Pearl Harbor diminishes, the number of people who visit the USS Arizona Memorial annually has doubled to 1.5 million annually in the last 30 years. Now with the new addition to the visitor center built in 1980, about to be completed, that number is expected to grow even more.

It is appropriate that as the number of those who could tell us about their experiences that day diminishes, the new $63.2 million plan to relate the history of the “Day of Infamy” will be in place to pick up the history of a day American will never forget.

“I think the importance of the museum is the legacy that it leaves us after the survivors and civilian eyewitnesses, these participants, are no longer with us,” said Daniel Martínez, chief historian for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial.

On the morning of Dec. 7, a first wave of 183 Japanese planes launched from carrier decks was followed by 167 in a second wave in attacks on Kaneohe Naval Air Station, Hickam, Wheeler, Ewa and Bellows fields and Pearl Harbor.

Still a few who still can make the pilgrimage of the site where they witnessed the entry of the United States into World War II were there once again to mark the day.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat tells the story of six local men who were there 69 years ago. Chris Smith, one of them tells it.

“Any more, it’s a good turnout when six local survivors of Imperial Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on U.S. forces on Oahu, one of the most momentous events in American history, make it to a monthly meeting in Santa Rosa,” Smith wrote in a story printed Saturday.

“There was a time not many years ago that dozens showed up. But 69 years after the lopsided first U.S. battle of World War II, most Pearl Harbor veterans have died or they’re not up to getting to meeting,” Smith said.

Of the six who attend the monthly meetings Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, all aged about 90, only Jesse Love, Herb Louden and Smith will make the trip to Hawaii. On Tuesday, the 7th, Jesse Love, Herb Louden, Accompanying them will be a small platoon of Sonoma and Lake County friends, relatives and widows of Pearl Harbor survivors.

The local chapter’s other still-active members — Bill May, Don Blair and Frank Sennello — are staying home and on Tuesday morning will gather to commemorate Dec. 7 and salute their lost comrades at a memorial breakfast and ceremony, Smith wrote.

According to the Honolulu newspaper, Martínez explained that five years ago the National Park Service brought together leading historians as plans were being looked at for a new visitor center and museum.

“(We asked), What kind of story do we want to tell?” Martinez said. “And many of the historians said it’s time that we moved to telling the broader story — that we tell and look at the perspective of what the Japanese were thinking during that time, and what leads them down the road to war with the United States.”

Sterling Cale, 89, a Navy pharmacist mate second class who retrieved 46 people from the waters of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7– some of them dead, some badly wounded and burned — said he was impressed with the new museum.

“We’ll tell (people) the story but here you see the story,” Cale said.

Not all the story, though.

Cale recently tapped at a glass case enclosure of a model of the USS Arizona before it was bombed, pointing out references he knew from the horrible aftermath of the sinking.

He and 10 other men were detailed to recover the dead on the battleship, and he recalled seeing ashes blowing off the ship that he realized had been men.

“The Arizona burned for 2 1/2 days. A lot of these men burned right down to the deck,” he said. “But I didn’t have anything, and I couldn’t stop the ashes (from blowing away). I just sort of sank down, and I shed a few tears.”

Not all survivors agree with the decision to offer the Japanese viewpoint. A film crew was sent to Japan, and vintage news footage and interviews from both the United States and Japan are run in the new museum.

“I don’t give a s— about their (the Japanese) viewpoint. It was a sneak attack and I’ll never forget that,” Stratton, 88, said. The USS Arizona survivor, a Colorado Springs resident, received burns over 65 percent of his body when a Japanese aerial bomb blew up his ship, killing 1,177 shipmates.

Martinez, the Valor in the Pacific historian, said Americans continue to remember Pearl Harbor, but in a different way from during the war.

“The message of 1941 has now evolved into a slogan of American history. It doesn’t have the intensity that it had to (propel) a nation to move forward in war, but it has a phrase that calls out to us to remember the sacrifices of Pearl Harbor,” Martinez said. “You stand here and know that America changed at that moment out in that harbor.”

The Americano / Agencies

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