Remembering Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor survivor Jim Stansell enters the ceremony.   - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Pearl Harbor survivor Jim Stansell enters the ceremony.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

“We pay tribute to those young men who gave their lives on Dec. 7, 1941. They were the first American heroes of World War II.”

These words were spoken by Jim Stansell, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, North Cascade Chapter 5. He was only a year into his military service when Japanese bombers conducted a surprise attack on the Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, effectively opening a second front for the U.S. in the world-encompassing war.

More than 2,400 military and civilian lives were lost and 12 ships were sunk or beached during the battle than ensued.

Stansell gave an account of the horrors he witnessed that day during a commemoration ceremony Friday at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Seaplane Base Marina to honor the survivors and mourn those who were lost.

“After 67 years that horrible memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, is still very vivid in the memory of those of us that survived,” Stansell said. “Whether it was the sight of the USS Arizona exploding and rising and out of the water then settling back in a crumbled mass of twisted steel and fire and at the same time knowing that many hundreds of young men such as myself were dying in those few horrible moments.”

To his right was a table setting in which every item had meaning. A single rose displayed in a vase was to remind the audience of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in-Arms who keep faith awaiting their return. A slice of lemon on the bread plate represented their bitter fate.

Following the speeches, the Pearl Harbor survivors and their families carried flowers to the marina railing. There was a moment of silence. Then a wreath was laid in the harbor and one by one, the survivors dropped their carnations.

A gun salute by the honor guard broke the silence, and quietly a bugler played taps.

The audience departed to the reception for cake, and survivors shared stories with the young military members.

Friday’s event was hosted by Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11. Captain Theodore Lucas was one of their speakers.

“The ceremony tugged at my heart. It was a great opportunity to talk to the survivors and learn more from them. They are part of the greatest generation ever,” Lucas said.

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