Ailene Cannell Eby of Lebanon was only 2 years old, but she has vivid memories of Japanese warplanes attacking the naval military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
The 110-minute surprise attack is considered the watershed moment that propelled the United States into World War II.
Eby was joined by dozens of veterans — including 97-year-old survivor David Russell, who served on board the USS Oklahoma — and others at a memorial service Thursday morning at the American Legion Post 10 in Albany.
Eby’s father, Marvin Cannell, had gotten out of bed early that Sunday morning to paint a baby bed at his young family’s apartment in civilian housing on the U.S. Navy base. It was a short distance to the machine shop near the docks where he worked during the week. He needed to finish the job because he and his wife, Mary, were expecting their second child any day.
Mary was holding Ailene as she sat on a kitchen counter top. They expected it was going to be another leisurely day.
But at 7:55 a.m., the morning calm was shattered when 353 warplanes from the Imperial Japanese Air Service launched an aerial attack that would kill or wound more than 3,000 people — both military and civilian — including more than 1,100 on the USS Arizona alone.
At first the Cannell family thought the commotion was part of a military training exercise. But they quickly realized the island was under attack when they saw a Japanese plane fly between two housing units, machine guns blazing. And it became all too real when a neighbor standing in the doorway of his home was killed in front of them.
Mary Cannell later wrote, “We could see smoke from the ships. One plane flew between our house and the one next door, so low you could see the pilot. The house behind us had bullet holes in the door.”
Her husband was called to work and a car with a loudspeaker informed women and children to go to bomb shelters.
“The wet cement in the bomb shelter smelled,” Eby said. “There were wooden plank benches along the walls and water on the floor.”
Marvin Cannell had moved his family to Hawaii in July 1941, in part because his mother had moved there. He worked in a machine shop on the docks and the family lived in military-provided housing.
None of the family members was injured physically, but the horrors of that day have haunted Eby for decades. The sound of military aircraft would send her “running for cover.”
On Dec. 10, 1941, Eby’s sister Becky was born.
The family — which grew to include brother Mac — remained in Hawaii until December 1944. They boarded an Italian luxury liner that had been commandeered into service and, along with prisoners of war, made way for the United States, arriving in San Diego on Christmas Day 1944.
Thursday morning, Eby brought two rounds of military ammunition and photos of herself standing in front of the family apartment.
Guest speaker retired U.S. Navy Capt. James Haggart said that whether they served in the trenches of Europe in World War I, on the deck of a naval ship in the Pacific Theater during World War II, or are now at some isolated military outpost halfway around the world, veterans all share the common core values of honor, courage and commitment.
And they all take the same oath to “uphold a set of principles enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of America,” Haggart said.
“It means our nation entrusted you to go into hazardous places and do dangerous things,” Haggart said. “It means that you were charged with preserving peace when possible and fighting our wars as necessary. You took that oath, not for yourself, but for your country.”
Haggart, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, served 30 years and is employed by the Greater Albany Public Schools.
He said that at the Naval Academy each class gets to design part of their class ring. His ring bears the words “Non Sibi," part of the Latin phrase, “Non Sibi sed Patriae,” or “Not for self, but for country.” It was designed by a classmate, Fred Minier, who after graduation in 1973 was assigned to a destroyer in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1975, he saved two sailors, but lost his life in the process. Those words, “non sibi,” had proven prophetic.
“His last act was to put his shipmates before himself,” Haggart said.
He also talked about meeting a former sailor who was serving below deck on the USS Nevada, the only ship to get underway after the Pearl Harbor attack. Although he was standing in saltwater up to his waist, this sailor had continued to load ammunition so gunners could fire on attacking aircraft.
“Non sibi,” Haggart said.
And, Haggart said, he once met 98-year-old Adm. Francis Thomas, who in 1941 was a lieutenant commander on the Nevada.
“He was the senior officer aboard the ship that Sunday and it was his decision to get the ship underway,” he said. “It was he who led two days of damage control efforts to save the ship for its eventual return to service with the fleet. He earned the Navy Cross for those actions. Here was another man who did his duty.”
“Non sibi,” Haggart said.
Haggart encouraged all present to “continue to live your lives with the same dedication as the admiral, the sailor waist deep in water in the magazine of the battleship and Fred Minier. Non Sibi sed Patriae. Not for self, but for country.”
Post 10 Commander Steve Adams said that as a young man he promised his father he'd never forget the attack on Pearl Harbor or those who served, and he has honored that pledge.
Post Chaplain Floyd Bacon provided the opening and closing prayers, taps was played by Glenn Hunter and the military honors were by the Post 10 Honor Guard.
Of 60,000 Pearl Harbor survivors, only an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 are still living. An estimated 558,000 World War II veterans remain, but about 1,000 per day are passing away. The youngest survivors would be about in their early 90s.
A buffet breakfast followed the ceremony.