Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Local vets recall Pearl Harbor

December 5, 2001

Many of them were just high school students in December 1941.

Some were already in the service and some didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was, an area as foreign to them as the attacking empire of Japan.

Wherever they were, several area World War II veterans remember that fateful day when Japanese fighters bombed the entire U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet, signaling America's entry into World War II.

Basehor resident and Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Bob Wiley was an 18-year old high school senior at the time of the attack.

Following the attack, Wiley was drafted into military service, where he served in the 71st Army infantry.

Wiley said his resentment toward the attack is the same today as it was on Dec. 7, 1941.

"I probably still feel the same way as I did back then, that they were very inconsiderate in what they did," he said. "We didn't start the thing, they did. As far as I am concerned, I still don't like them."

As part of the Basehor VFW's educational program, VFW members will be at Basehor-Linwood High School on Friday, Dec. 7, to speak to students about Pearl Harbor.

Bonner Springs resident George Berlin was a 16-year old high school student at the time of the attack.

Berlin said he knew very little about the world at that age, let alone the island in the Pacific that had been decimated by the Japanese.

"I didn't think a lot about it back then," Berlin said. "I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was. I knew some of the older boys were joining the service, but that was about it."

Later, Berlin joined the Navy as a radar operator on a gunboat that supported ground troops.

His travels in the Navy took Berlin to such areas as the Guadal Canal, the Philippine Islands, Korea and China.

Berlin said he was proud to serve his country in a time of need.

"They declared war on us and sank our ships," he said. "I think it was a disaster, but we had to fight until we had them whipped."

Like Berlin, Basehor resident Bob Gravatt was unsure where Pearl Harbor was at the time of the attacks.

Gravatt, a former U.S. Navy radio operator, was 15 years old at the time and remembers listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt make his famous address to the nation in which he termed Dec. 7 "a day that will live in infamy."

Gravatt said he was upset by the actions of the Japanese.

"I was disgusted, along with another 19 million Americans," Gravatt said. "We learned a lesson that day that won't ever be repeated. We won't ever have our entire fleet in one place like that."

Gravatt left this week to visit Pearl Harbor, which will be the site of a 60th anniversary remembrance service.

Although many Americans felt resentment toward the Japanese at the time of Pearl Harbor, Edwardsville resident Jack Brown was not one of them.

Brown was a Nebraska native at the time and had several Japanese neighbors when news of the attacks hit the Midwest.

"I never had any resentment against the Japanese or the Germans for that matter," Brown said. "We had neighbors and they were pretty good people."

"I felt bad when they put (the Japanese) in the (internment) camps."

Brown served in the Navy during World War II and said he was eager to serve in the military.

"I figured I had a job to do and I went out and did it," he said.

Although the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., will probably yield a higher death toll, many veterans still consider the attacks on Pearl Harbor the worst event in United States history.

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