Day of remembrance
Edward Miklavcic, left, and Jack Holder salute at a Pearl Harbor event in Phoenix.
Jack Holder and his aircraft crew had just begun roll call when they heard a deafening explosion.
A bomb had just fallen on the hangar next to theirs. It was the beginning of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt would call the day of the attack, Dec. 7, 1941, a date that would live in infamy.
Arizona veterans and their families gathered at Wesley Bolin Plaza near the Arizona state Capitol on Friday morning — 77 years later — to observe the event that would make the United States join the Allied Forces in World War II.
Dozens of people laid wreaths by the anchor of the USS Arizona as Wanda Wright, director of Arizona Department
“A sudden sadness fell over me — a sadness I’d only felt at funerals of friends and family.” Commander Justin Collins Keynote speaker
of Veterans’ Services, announced the military and veteran organizations they represented.
‘True American heroes’
Gov. Doug Ducey took to the podium and thanked the veterans before him for everything they had done.
“I just want to say what an honor it is for me to be among all these heroes on this beautiful Arizona day and how thankful I am for your sacrifice and service to our nation,” said to the crowd.
Ducey spoke of how the courage and mettle of America’s soldiers helped make one of country’s bleakest days a little brighter.
“Today, it is with great humility, that we gather at the anchor of the battleship USS Arizona to remember each of these lives that were taken from us,” Ducey said. “Dec. 7th, 1941, is among history’s darkest moments. But today, we remember that amid all the death, destruction and chaos, emerged some of the most incredible demonstrations of bravery, heroism and sacrifice.”
Among the veterans Ducey thanked was Archie Kelly, who was assigned to the USS West Virginia the day of the attack. As the ship was assailed with torpedoes, Kelly closed the doors on the lower decks to prevent the ship from flooding. Ducey said Kelly’s actions prevented the ship from capsizing.
Ducey also thanked the Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance: Jack Holder, Ed Miklavcic, and Maurice Storck — all of whom continued the fight in World War II.
“Jack, Ed, Maurice, we are honored to have you with us today. You and your fellow service members are true American heroes in every way,” Ducey said. “Words can never fully repay the eternal debt of gratitude we owe you and everyone who served at Pearl Harbor. Today, Arizona says thank you.”
‘1,102 of my shipmates on board’
Commander Justin Collins of the U.S. Navy was the event’s keynote speaker. Collins said he had a hard time understanding the magnitude of the 1,102 lives lost when the USS Arizona sank until he visited the ship’s memorial during a vacation to Hawaii.
“It was a beautiful day with a nice sea breeze. We were on vacation, life was great,” Collins said. “But as stepped onto the memorial, my mood changed drastically. A sudden sadness fell over me — a sadness I’d only felt at funerals of friends and family.”
Collins said none of his relatives had served on the Arizona, nor did he know any of the sailors who perished at Pearl Harbor. But unlike the five now-decommissioned frigates he served on, the Arizona’s hull still had a soul.
“Sailors give a ship a soul and make it the most powerful asset in the defense of this great nation,” Collins said. “As I peered down in the hull of the Arizona, I wasn’t looking at a decommissioned ship — some piece of metal acting as a reef. It wasn’t like my ships that had been decommissioned, because this one still had 1,102 of my shipmates on board.”
Survivor recalls the fateful day
Holder, who will turn 97 next week, recalled diving into a ditch for cover with a crewmate.
“I’ve been asked many times what my thoughts were at that time. My my most vivid memory I have is, ‘God, please let me die in this ditch.’”
Holder witnessed catastrophic devastation when he left the ditch, with several ships completely ablaze.
Holder sent his parents a postcard telling them he was OK. He’d later learn from his father that his mother was hysterical during the 11 days it would take the letter to reach them and promised God she would spend the rest of her life working for the church if her son was spared.
“And she did,” Holder said.
Veteran Maurice Storck of Tucson sits next to a photo of veteran Marvin Rewerts, who passed away in November.
Gerry Berger, vice president of the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame, stands at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix on Friday.
Gov. Doug Ducey shakes hands with veterans during a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day event.