December 7, 2007, - 9:48 am
By Debbie Schlussel
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Until then, we had not really entered World War II. They attacked us. Just like all the many attacks in which the replacement-”they” have attacked us–not just on 9/11/01, but well before and after.
Today, 66 years later there is nary a peep in the mainstream media or on the newscasts. But there are five Pearl Harbor survivors, in their 80s and 90s, who regularly volunteer at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, talking to visitors and keeping history alive. There were 15, but now just five (check out the photo gallery of these suriving heroes). These heroes are dying out:
They are the ironmen of their generation, living through Dec. 7, 1941, and the World War that followed, and defying the pitfalls of age and health into their 80s and 90s.
The five Pearl Harbor survivors who regularly volunteer at the USS Arizona Memorial visitor center, talking and joking with tourists and signing autographs, may have lost a step or two, but not their wit.
“He’s the old man right here,” Alfred Rodrigues, 87, said while cocking his head toward Herb Weatherwax. “How old are you, Dad?”
Weatherwax, sitting at the same table, stated that he’s 90.
“It’s been 90 beautiful years. Beautiful,” said the former soldier. That excludes some dark times, though, such as witnessing the destruction of Pearl Harbor and Wheeler Army Airfield.
When a 55-year-old woman from New Jersey swoops over, plants a kiss on Rodrigues’ cheek and says “Thank you” and starts to walk away, Weatherwax chimes in, “Hey, come back!” widening his ever-present smile.
That’s how it goes when the aging survivors are holding court. But it’s a limited engagement, and they are a dwindling resource whose presence has become that much more precious as their ranks have thinned.
Ten years ago, about 15 Pearl Harbor survivors were part of the pool of veterans who mingled with visitors. Several years ago, that number had fallen to 10, and now there are just the five.
One of the regulars, Air Force veteran Bill Cope, died on Nov. 25 at age 94.
“The attrition level is here, and we know that every day that they show up, it’s sort of like a gift,” said Arizona Memorial historian Daniel Martinez.
The numbers are reflective of the nationwide loss of the “greatest generation,” and of the ever-shrinking survivor turnout for the next anniversary of the attack that launched the United States into World War II.
On Friday, fewer than 50 are expected at Kilo pier for the 66th anniversary. Eighteen survivors from the battleship USS Oklahoma ‚Äî a large number ‚Äî are coming for the dedication of a new memorial on Ford Island. . . .
Robert Kinzler was in the 25th Infantry Division. During the attack, his company was ordered to take up a position at Roosevelt High School, and Kinzler saw the Pearl Harbor destruction.
Weatherwax, who was born in Honolulu in 1917, received the instruction to report to his duty station at Schofield Barracks that morning. Late in the war, his unit joined up with Russian soldiers in western Germany.
Sterling Cale, a Navy corpsman on Dec. 7, 1941, was in charge of the burial party removing bodies from the USS Arizona.
Everett Hyland was serving aboard the USS Pennsylvania, which was in drydock No. 1 on that morning, and was seriously wounded when a Japanese bomb exploded near his battle station.
And Rodrigues, who was born in Kapa’a, Kaua’i, was at Bishop’s Point at Pearl Harbor. He was issued a .30-caliber rifle and started shooting at the Japanese planes that passed overhead.
Rodrigues had just sat down for breakfast when the general alarm sounded.
“Just before the general alarm sounded, we heard a lot of explosions,” Rodrigues said. “But you know, many times, they were working in Pearl Harbor, dredging the harbor, so we thought nothing of it.”
Then he saw the rising sun on the planes and knew O’ahu was being attacked.
“They were flying low enough to see the pilots’ faces,” Rodrigues added. “It was scary. It was scary.” . . .
Those firsthand accounts won’t be around forever. The veterans themselves know it most of all.
Rodrigues said there are only 19 members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association still on O’ahu.
“The Arizona had 233 survivors, and I just got word … that there are only 25 living,” he said. “I hate to say it, but we know that our time is coming. I don’t go to church, but I say my prayers.”
In the meantime, they are ambassadors of history from a time of world conflict and, ultimately, peace with Japan and Germany. . . .
Martinez, the Arizona Memorial’s historian, said hundreds of “oral histories” from survivors have been recorded over the years. But the real-life link in the not-too-distant future will be gone.
“These stories will remain alive, but what will be a loss is for the visitors, because the visitors have a chance today to touch history by meeting (the veterans), getting an autograph and a picture with them,” Martinez said. “That’s going to be lost, and that is irreplaceable.”
Remember Pearl Harbor, because they won’t be around for too much longer to remember it for you.
As I wrote last year:
[Then,] we were fighting a more finite, defeatable enemy. On December 7, 1941, 2,388 U.S. military personnel were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 1,178 American servicemen were wounded. 12 ships were sunk or beached, 9 damaged. We lost 164 aircraft to total destruction, and 159 others were damaged.
Today, we are fighting the new version of those allied with the Japanese–the new Nazis. They are far more committed, far more dangerous. They don’t just bomb ships and planes and military. They torture and murder innocent civilians.
Do we have the resolve? It seems that our resolve is sinking along with the Pearl Harbor Memorial which is sinking into the ground beneath it and may need to be propped up? Who will prop the back-to-sleep America from its sinking beneath the Islamic fundamentalism on our own shores?
Sadly, these Pearl Harbor vets won’t be around much longer. And we have a dearth of those like them in today’s day and age, willing to fight the enemy and to what it takes.
From my 2005 coverage of Pearl Harbor Day, don’t forget these words from the Memorial:
My brothers lie in state,
In clear waters
Of testimony, their willingness
To answer our Nation’s call.
An angel bends down, whispers in my ear,
Never forget. Never forget.
Honor them. They
Gave their lives for you.
No man hath a greater love.
Do them honor.
And never forget.
Never forget Pearl Harbor. And never forget that we are facing an enemy far more fierce, an enemy that is slowly defeating us.
Tags: 25th Infantry Division, Air Force, Alfred Rodrigues, America, anniversary of the attack, Arizona, Arizona Memorial, Bill Cope, Bishop, Cale Everett Hyland, Daniel Martinez, Ford Island, Germany, Herb Weatherwax, historian, Honolulu, Japan, Kapa'a, Kilo Pier, mainstream media, New Jersey, Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor Day, Pearl Harbor Memorial, Pearl Harbor Survivor Sterling Cale, Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Robert Kinzler, Roosevelt High School, United States, USS Arizona Memorial, USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, Wheeler Army Airfield