Pearl Harbor Survivors – 70 years later

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“It was the first time I’d ever seen death like that. I never realized you could die so easily. It’s something that can haunt you. I never forgot.” - Edward Davis, 90-year-old Army veteran stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/The Washington Times)

It was seven decades ago when the paradise island of O’ahu turned into hell, assailed by a surprise attack from the Imperial Japanese Navy. Today, the Department of Veteran Affairs estimates we are losing the WWII generation of military at a rate of approximate 1000 per day. Out of the 16 million that served, only about 2.5 million still grace us with their presence. Those who can say they survived Pearl Harbor’s attack number only around 8000.

It’s taken some time for survivors of that war, and this battle, to open up and speak of their experiences. Most say they had a war to fight, and they just tried to put the experience of this attack behind them. Others may have found the trauma to much to relive. But now they speak more freely, fearing future generations may not remember and that part of history will be lost.

Edward Davis – a 90-year-old Army veteran with Parkinson’s disease – is one of those elite few. Even now, living at D.C.’s Armed Forces Retirement Home, he has vivid recall of that day of infamy, and wonders why he returned home without a scratch when so many were maimed or killed.

The USS West Virginia
Another survivor in the same retirement home, 92 year old Mr. Harris Bircher, had the unique experience of being declared MIA when he was thrown from the USS West Virginia after it was hit by seven torpedoes and three bombs. It wasn’t until was reassigned aboard the USS San Francisco that he found out his hometown, assuming he was dead, had held a funeral for him. “I’m just glad that it wasn’t for real”, he says.

Steve Krawczyk, a member of of the Army Air Corps 22nd Material Squadron, was en route to church when the attack began.

“When the attack came, it was like going 180 degrees from a serene setting to being attacked,” Mr. Krawczyk said.

As he watched a Japanese plane heading right for him, he squeezed underneath a raised sidewalk, fearing the worst. The plane ultimately bombed a target behind him, and he escaped unharmed.

“That was as close as I ever came to being terrified,” he said.

“The thing that carried us through that raid was the fact that the service people we had at that time averaged about 19 years of age,” he said. “And it was the resiliency of youth, you might say, that carried us through that trying period.”

USS Utah Memorial
One survivor, Lee Soucy, is on his way to join his Navy shipmates. Mr. Soucy died last year at the age of 90, and it was his final wish to be interred with the shipmates he lost aboard the USS Utah. Fifty-eight of the 461 Utah personnel died when the Florida-class battleship capsized after taking a torpedo hit forward. They were just raising their colors. A Navy diver will descend with his ashes, and place the urn in the porthole of the vessel.

Ms Soucy is only one of five who’s final wishes will be granted at the same time.

The ceremony is one of five memorials being held this week for servicemen who lived through the assault and want their remains placed in Pearl Harbor out of pride and affinity for those they left behind.

“They want to return and be with the shipmates that they lost during the attack,” said Jim Taylor, a retired sailor who coordinates the ceremonies.

~~~

Most of the 12 ships that sank or were beached that day were removed from the harbor, their metal hulls salvaged for scrap. Just the Utah and the USS Arizona still lie in the dark blue waters. Only survivors of those vessels may return in death to their ships.

The cremated remains of Vernon Olsen, who served aboard the Arizona, will be interred on his ship during a sunset ceremony Wednesday. The ashes of three other survivors are being scattered in the harbor.

Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Logo
In 1954, eleven survivors of the attack gathered to remember their fallen comrades and dear friends in Gardena, CA. Like my father had done, organizing an annual reunion of his Army Air Corps fighter squadron, the survivors vowed to make this meeting an annual commemoration. Their alliance led to the founding of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. But just as has happened with my now deceased father’s efforts, the Association will be disbanding at the end of this year. The remaining members are nearing 90, and many with serious health issues that prohibit travel for reunions.

For those with a love and respect of history, I invite you to cyber walk thru the Naval photo gallery of Pearl Harbor.

For interactive history, National Geographic has put together a stellar timeline of the Japanese attack map. If it were embeddable, I would have done so.

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day isn’t a nationally recognized federal holiday. There are no “nearest Monday” days off to make it a convenient long weekend… no BBQs, the mail moves as usual and banks are open. As we lose this greatest generation, I fear we will also lose marking this day with the import in history it has. For most, it’s just another passing day. Yet, in impact, it is that generation’s September 11th… and one more lesson for the US that we are not immune from enemies attacks.

1942 poster by Allen Saalburg
~~~

A great blog read…

http://www.bookwormroom.com/2011/12/07/my-mothers-war-courtesy-of-pearl-harbor/”>Bookworm Room, with a story of his mother during WWII.

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Sidwell Friends School,
Sasha and Malia Obama’s School,
Opts For Japanese Food On Pearl Harbor Day

WUSA9 Washington, DC, by Manny Fantis
What are President Obama’s kids eating at school on Pearl Harbor day? Japanese food, of course! Sidwell Friends School’s website shows the menu for Wednesday December 7th, 2011, the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, as an Asian food day.

Why should 12/7 be a holiday? Should 9/11 be a holiday? What about VE day?

Let’s just get back to work and knock-off the holidays, okay?

I mean “Memorial Day” is just an excuse for the majority of slackers to get drunk-they don’t “memorialize” our war dead.

“Asian food”, Matso Ball Soup or Israeli havala is “asian”.

Folks, you gotta visit the Arizona Memorial, the Submariner Memorial, and the Mighty Mo( USN BB Missouri) all at Pearl Harbor. Its a day you’ll never forget.
Mata is 100 % correct. My dad fought at Ortona, Italy, Juno Beach, Falaise, Appeldorn, Luxenberg, Rotterdam, and the Walcherans and said absolutely nothing. My uncle Leonard gave me the scuttlebut many years later. We did ask, but he avoided everything.

God Bless the Souls Lost this day 70 years ago….Thank God for the Courage of those who Survived….

GOD BLESS AMERICA.

I think the lesson of Pearl Harbor is to be prepared. There are a lot of people out there who hate American and what it stands for. The other lesson is “Don’t trust your security to democrats.”

@MataHarley:

Ivan, did I anywhere suggest that Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day *should* be a holiday? Of course I didn’t. You certainly comprehend the written word strangely….

Another Clintonesque dinial. You brought up the idea by lamenting it isn’t a holiday. Never mind, you don’t get it, and never will.

@MataHarley:

The reason I mention that it’s not a nationally recognized holiday at all is because these little long weekends off are generally the only way most of this nation remember anything in history.. and therefore this day of infamy is likely to be lost in remembrance, or marking it’s event, as time goes on.

Very few Americans understand what Memorial Day or the quasi-holiday of Veterans Day is about.

You are correct, though, 12/7 will be lost.

@Ivan: Ahem, denial is not spelled “dinial.”

Your smug attitude loses a bit of the sting when your witty comebacks are spelled incorrectly.

As I watched the superb video embedded in this piece, I was struck with what one of the veterans said in particularly:

In effect, we were thrust into history. We didn’t ask for it, but we suffered through it. The freedom that we enjoy is not to be taken for granted because it was paid for by the lives of many, many young men. It is our most precious asset. – Steve Krawczyk, Army Air Corps Veteran and survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I dare say that those young men and women in Pearl Harbor that day would have never found themselves occupying Wall Street.

December 7th is a date that should live in infamy, and the infamy is FDR’s. His repeated baiting of the Japanese in order to get us into a war he wanted into but the majority of Americans were opposed to was cowardly and deceitful. We need to use Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day as a day to remember the dangers of popular leaders and charismatic orators.

http://crybelovedcountry.com/2011/12/1086/

@Cry, Beloved Country: What a great way to honor those who lost their lives that day, turn this into a conspiracy theory.

There’s a time and place. This isn’t either.

Anticsrock (#14), I raised five kids while my husband spent 26 years on repeated deployments, flying combat search-and-rescue (USAF). My son-in-law is a career combat medic (USA). My son is a West Point cadet selectee. When my husband and I were in our early twenties, he wore out a set of Class As doing nothing in them but attending funerals of fellow combat SAR and special ops colleagues. We have lost so many friends in the line of duty than we can’t remember them all any more. I don’t need to be reminded to honor our fallen. I’ve spent my life doing it.

I submit that a free exchange of ideas (remember the First Amendment?) is in fact a wonderful way to honor them. Snarkiness, and trying to peremptorily shut down discussion, isn’t.

@Cry, Beloved Country: First of all, thanks to your family for their service to our country. My father was in the Marines during WWII and got to experience a lot of heavy combat in the invasion of Okinawa. My younger brother served in the Navy and participated in the first Gulf War.

Secondly, I wasn’t trying to shut down anything. I just thought that your choice of a thread to honor the sacrifice of those who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 was tasteless, crass and the wrong venue; hence my “time and place” reference.

There are weekly open threads here at FA, any one of those would be much more appropriate to talk about your conspiracy theories.

Great post/read Mata. Thanks for remembering!

Sorry, Anticsrocks (#16)–I thought a post on Pearl Harbor was the appropriate venue in which to talk about Pearl Harbor.

Specifically, I was responding to Mata’s final paragraph, in which she worries that we’re going to lose Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and in which she suggests that one of the lessons of Pearl is that we are not immune from enemy attacks. John Cooper (#7) suggested that the lessons of Pearl are to be prepared, and not trust our security to Democrats. In that vein, I suggested yet another lesson if we’re going to try to “keep” (in both senses of the word) Pearl Harbor Day, and continue to meditate on Pearl’s significance.

You reflexively dismiss my comment by labeling it a “conspiracy theory,” but I never suggested any conspiracy, merely duplicitousness and cowardice on the part of our President. I invite you instead to read and thoughtfully weigh some of the voluminous documentation on the subject (here’s Pat Buchanan on the subject if you didn’t like the documentation in my previous link–but you really need to read a couple of the many books on the subject to trace the source material, not just rely on an article or two).

To recognize the high likelihood of FDR’s perfidy does nothing to diminish the selflessness and heroism displayed by so many on December 7th. To dismissively label-and-discard the idea, on the other hand, would deprive us of one of Pearl’s most important lessons.

@MataHarley:

INRE Ivan #8: Don’t blame me for your reading disabilities, Ivan. That’s your onus to bear.

Lo and behold! Another Mata special. Nice to see you’re up on the personal insults. The hits they keep a’comin.

@Nan G:
You need to know that what people did in the past, are in the past. Your Nationalist ideas are what caused WWII and Hitler’s reign over Jews. Not to mention WWI of course.
Stop thinking Nationalist, you’re going to screw yourself over with it.
What’s done in the past, is in the past, the people who did are already dead.
Don’t take it out on their children who have been hindered by Historic grudges just as you have.

Get the fuck out you nationalist.