Luncheon pays tribute to WWII veterans

On the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, more than 50 World War II veterans attended a luncheon held in their honor.

The luncheon was held Wednesday at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Officer’s Club. The event was hosted by the Association of Navy Aviation.

Among the attendees was Jerry Wachsmuth, the last known remaining Pearl Harbor survivor living in the Puget Sound area. Wachsmuth, now 95, was only 20 when war erupted in 1941.

Wachsmuth said he was not drafted into the military, but voluntarily enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was serving aboard the USS Pennsylvania when the attack occurred.

In an interview, Wachsmuth recalled that he and his shipmates went topside to help pass ammunition to load the ship’s 20-caliber anti-aircraft guns.

Wachsmuth also reflected on those who died and wondered aloud why he survived.

“I just think about all the men that I served with, not just the ship but in the Marine Corps, on the beach battles that we had and how many never got a chance to live,” Wachsmuth said, holding back tears as he spoke.

President of the association’s Whidbey Island Squadron Howard Gully said the luncheon turnout was bigger than anticipated. Navy officials said they were expecting about 20 attendees.

“I think the census was wrong,” Gully said excitedly.

Gully explained that he was told there are only about 70 remaining WWII veterans locally. However, he learned there are more than 90 currently living in Island, San Juan and Skagit counties.

More than 250 service members, veterans and their families filled the room to pay tribute to the men and women who served during the war, referred to as the “greatest generation.”

During the luncheon, Gully presenteda history of WWII and how America came to be involved.

More than 416,000 service members were killed in WWII.