Pearl Har­bor sur­vivors mark at­tack’s milestone

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - CARLO MUNOZ

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. t ex­actly 55 min­utes past noon Wed­nes­day, pi­lot Jim Record took off from Long Is­land’s Repub­lic Air­port and steered his World War II-era North Amer­i­can SNJ 2 around the Statue of Lib­erty, while his co-pi­lot pre­pared the drop of 75 red Amer­i­can Beauty roses — com­mem­o­rat­ing each year since Ja­pan’s sur­prise at­tack on Pearl Har­bor.

The red roses were joined by a sin­gle white rose, com­mem­o­rat­ing the vic­tims of Sept. 11.

“It’s im­por­tant for the peo­ple in gen­eral to re­mem­ber this and also for the mil­i­tary peo­ple to re­mem­ber this,” Mr. Record, 69, a re­tired air­line pi­lot, Viet­nam-era vet­eran and Navy flier, said. “It’s not some­thing they stress too much in school — or if you talk about Dec. 7 to peo­ple on the street, they don’t know what it means. That’s a shame. It’s shock­ing and very im­por­tant in our his­tory.”

It’s a mo­men­tous milestone of an event that stub­bornly re­fuses to re­treat into the his­tory books — the 75th an­niver­sary of the at­tack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii, an event that dragged a re­luc­tant America into World War II and trans­formed an iso­la­tion­ist na­tion into a global su­per­power. The num­ber of first-hand wit­nesses dwin­dles by the day — a 20-year-old Navy corps­man at Pearl Har­bor turns 95 this year.

Ger­ard Bar­bosa, 93 of East Meadow, Long Is­land, is one of two Pearl Har­bor sur­vivors who plans to at­tend Wed­nes­day’s cer­e­mony. Then a 17-year-old sec­ond-class petty of­fi­cer and as­sis­tant gun­ner aboard the USS Raleigh in the wa­ters off Oahu, he isn’t sen­ti­men­tal about the ter­ror he lived through.

“I’m no hero. I vol­un­teered, my twin brother vol­un­teered, my fa­ther was in World War I. We’re strictly mil­i­tary,” he said in a phone in­ter­view Tues­day.

But for all his non­cha­lance, Mr. Bar­bosa has been at­tend­ing the rose-drop­ping cer­e­mony for 20 years, “sick or not,” in­clud­ing one year when he came a day after a heart op­er­a­tion.

“I fool around with the politi­cians, show them pictures of the Poly­ne­sian girls. They say, ‘Oh, gee, I wish we were there,’ but not on that Sun­day,” he said.

For many, the me­mories remain vivid even more than seven decades later.

Harold Mainer was a 20-year-old Navy boatswain’s mate first class on the USS He­lena when he saw one of his clos­est com­rades die. Mr. Mainer was get­ting ready to take shore leave when the first bombs hit Bat­tle­ship Row.

“I had $12.50 in my pocket. That was a half-month’s pay back then,” the 95-year old Arkansas na­tive re­called in an in­ter­view.

Mr. Mainer was man­ning his bat­tle sta­tion when a su­pe­rior or­dered him to grab a fire hose and wash the blood out of a sta­tion

An­ear his that had just been hit. Mr. Mainer asked who had been hit, to no avail. All that was left of the man was his shoes.

“We had a guy who could shine your shoes like noth­ing else,” Mr. Mainer said of Bryant Pot­ter, a North Carolinian and one of his best friends aboard the He­lena. “When I saw that shoe float­ing by, I knew who it was,” he said.

Over the next three hours, Mr. Mainer and thou­sands of other U.S. sailors bat­tled back the Ja­panese on­slaught while try­ing to evac­u­ate the wounded and dead off their ships.

“From then on, we just did what we were sup­posed to do,” Mr. Mainer said.

Ex­tra fer­vor

The 75th an­niver­sary has brought an ex­tra fer­vor to the na­tional com­mem­o­ra­tions. Re­stor­ers in Hawaii just this week put the fin­ish­ing touches on a $650,000 ren­o­va­tion of the four-story or­ange-and­white tower on Ford Is­land that served as the flight con­trol cen­ter for em­bat­tled U.S. forces scram­bling to or­ga­nize a de­fense that Sun­day morn­ing. A group of nearly three dozen at­tack sur­vivors, in­clud­ing 104-yearold San Diego res­i­dent Ray Chavez, the old­est liv­ing vet­eran of the at­tack, are be­ing flown to Pearl Har­bor to be hon­ored.

Mr. Chavez, who was serv­ing on the USS Con­dor minesweeper when the Ja­panese first struck, told the lo­cal NBC af­fil­i­ate in San Diego that he typ­i­cally at­tended his home city’s memo­ri­als to Pearl Har­bor, but was mak­ing the five-hour trip be­cause “over there I feel dif­fer­ent, com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

“I feel like I am one with them and they are part of me,” he said of his lost com­rades. “I go and say a lit­tle prayer for their souls, and that makes me feel bet­ter.”

The “drop­ping of the roses” cer­e­mony is a 46-year tra­di­tion started by Pearl Har­bor sur­vivor and Long Is­land na­tive Joseph Hy­drusko. The cer­e­mony was taken over in 1996 by the Long Is­land chap­ter of the Air Force As­so­ci­a­tion.

Fred DiFabio, the 75-year-old pres­i­dent of the Long Is­land Air Force As­so­ci­a­tion (AFA), said the most im­por­tant part of the an­nual cer­e­mony is ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic.

“I al­ways felt and still feel that the gen­eral pub­lic was not 100 per­cent be­hind hon­or­ing our vet­er­ans in the past, [though] it has got­ten much bet­ter than it was,” he said. “I am a Viet­nam vet­eran. I know how the vets feel and still feel to­day, how the gen­eral pub­lic sees them.

“When I do these pro­grams, it’s to honor the vet­er­ans and to show the pub­lic that these peo­ple are an in­te­gral part of the econ­omy, of this coun­try. If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be en­joy­ing the free­doms you have to­day.”

Ear­lier in the week, the AFA held a plaque ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony to honor Pearl Har­bor sur­vivors from Long Is­land who par­tic­i­pated in ear­lier rose-drop­ping cer­e­monies. Of the orig­i­nal group of 18 Pearl Har­bor vet­er­ans, just two are still alive — Mr. Bar­bosa and Sey­mour Blutt, 98, who was serv­ing in the Army Air Corps — the fore­run­ner of to­day’s Air Force — at Hickam Field on the morn­ing of Dec. 7.

Mr. Bar­bosa re­called the roller coaster of emo­tions he ex­pe­ri­enced in an in­ter­view with a lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion.

“I had the week­end on duty on board the ship,” he said in the video, wear­ing his olive-green uni­form and a vet­er­ans cap. “I had just fin­ished break­fast, got dressed — put my dun­ga­rees on — and I heard this big ex­plo­sion and thought the ship was com­ing out of the wa­ter.”

He went on, “So I said, ‘OK, I have to get up the lad­der as quick as I could and get to my 20-mil­lime­ter.’ I could hear the bul­lets bounc­ing in front of me and hit­ting the bulk­head — that’s the wall. I’m run­ning as fast as I could, don’t askme how I didn’t get hit— my other friend was run­ning right with me. He says, ‘Ain’t you scared?’ I said, ‘I’m shak­ing like a leaf. Don’t ask if I’m scared!’”

Reach­ing his gun, Mr. Bar­bosa said he just aimed for the Ja­panese flag on the side of the planes whizzing by.

“I said, ‘Look at that red meat­ball! A good tar­get to aim at.’ And that’s what I did.” Later, Mr. Bar­bosa was told he shot down ei­ther six or seven en­emy air­craft.

“I didn’t believe it, but I wasn’t count­ing,” he said in the in­ter­view.

Wash­ing­ton re­mem­bers

In Wash­ing­ton the World War II Me­mo­rial on the Mall is again serv­ing as a fo­cal point for the re­mem­brance of the sac­ri­fices made at Pearl Har­bor. On Tues­day the Friends of the WWII Me­mo­rial or­ga­ni­za­tion held a can­dle­light vigil at the me­mo­rial, where the names of the 2,400 U.S. ca­su­al­ties at Pearl Har­bor were read aloud.

On Wed­nes­day vet­er­ans of the war and their fam­i­lies are set to gather at the me­mo­rial for a wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony. Ari­zona Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain, a Navy vet­eran, will de­liver the key­note ad­dress. Another wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony is set for the U.S. Navy Me­mo­rial Plaza.

And in just the lat­est sign of how far the world has come since 1941, Ja­pan con­firmed Mon­day that Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe will meet with Pres­i­dent Obama at Pearl Har­bor two days after Christ­mas, the first Ja­panese leader to go to the naval base since Dec. 7, 1941, the “day of in­famy.” The Abe gov­ern­ment said in a state­ment that Mr. Abe was go­ing to re­mem­ber the vic­tims of the at­tack, which killed more than 2,300 Amer­i­can ser­vice­men and women.

Mr. DiFabio said he was heart­ened by the news that an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and a Ja­panese prime min­is­ter will be meet­ing in friend­ship and peace on such fraught, hal­lowed ground.

The Ja­panese “are hon­or­able peo­ple [and] they un­der­stand what they did and what started the war,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing that the prime min­is­ter is go­ing there. Ja­pan is an ally of the United States and is a strong sup­porter of our coun­try. It’s prob­a­bly some­thing that should have been done a long time ago.”

Added Mr. Record: “As a re­tired in­ter­na­tional air­line pi­lot, I spent a lot of time in Ja­pan and al­ways en­joyed a fine re­la­tion­ship with the lo­cal peo­ple. The hor­ren­dous events that both started and ended WWII have al­ways been con­tentious points. The fact that our pres­i­dent vis­ited Hiroshima ear­lier this year and the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter is visit­ing Pearl Har­bor this month should go a long way to strengthen the U.S.-Ja­panese al­liance we have en­joyed since the war.”


Viet­nam vet­eran Jim Record will fly a plane over the Statue of Lib­erty, where 75 roses, one for each year since Pearl Har­bor, will be dropped into the Hud­son River.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.