Although Pearl Harbor survivor Harry Scott of Sweet Home died in 2002, his spirit was present Wednesday morning at the American Legion Post 10 as mid-valley residents commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii.
Scott’s granddaughter, Charee Gelatt-Fielders of Scio, wore a sweatshirt featuring photos of Scott and brought a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings following the attack. With her was Scott’s great-grandson, Hunter Fielders.
Before the ceremony, attended by about 50 people, Gelatt-Fielders greeted USS Oklahoma survivor David Russell, 96, of Albany, the last known Pearl Harbor survivor in the mid-valley. Russell survived by leaping from the Oklahoma to the nearby USS Maryland and pulling himself away from the burning oil in the harbor waters on a rope.
Both Russell and Scott served on the USS Oklahoma that was severely damaged and capsized in the bay during that Sunday morning attack that drew the reticent United State into World War II.
Post 10 Commander Steve Adams said he promised his father 65 years ago after attending a Pearl Harbor memorial service that “I would never forget this day. We must all remember the sacrifices made that day by members of the Greatest Generation.”
He introduced Russell, who was greeted with hearty applause.
Six decades after he made that promise, Adams has come to fully realize why those young soldiers and sailors earned the title "Greatest Generation." He noted that 1,177 sailors died on the Arizona, 429 on the Oklahoma and 64 on the Utah.
In all, 2,008 sailors perished, along with 109 marines, 218 Army soldiers and 68 civilians.
“I recently learned that from that single battle, there were 15 Medal of Honor recipients, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Stars, four Navy/Marine Crosses, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal and three Bronze Stars. That is amazing and tells the story,” Adams said. “It is a tribute to the Greatest Generation.”
Retired Navy SEAL Don Armstrong of North Albany, who was the featured speaker at Wednesday's ceremony, said his family has a long history of military service, starting with his father, a World War II pilot who flew everything from a glider to a cargo plane.
Armstrong and his brothers all served in various branches of the military, including in the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force.
Armstrong said he served three tours of duty in Vietnam and was “severely wounded on the last tour. I died twice and they brought me back to life.”
Armstrong said the Japanese had six aircraft carriers 300 miles offshore of Hawaii and launched 350 aircraft.
“Our warships sitting in the harbor were incinerated, but all but three returned to active duty in time,” he said. “It was the single largest loss in U.S. Naval history.”
Armstrong said 23 sets of brothers lost their lives due to the sinking of the USS Arizona.
“On that day, the United States was ranked 14th in the world in the terms of military power,” he said. “We were even behind Sweden.”
But, Armstrong said, galvanized by the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States morphed into the world’s greatest military power.
“We put on our big boy pants and by the end of the war, we had chased down and sunk every one of the Japanese carriers that had participated in the Pearl Harbor attack,” he said.
Armstrong said that, sadly, as we lose members of that Greatest Generation, many members of a younger generation of Americans don't even know what World War II was about, or why the United States was so united by the attack at Pearl Harbor.
Armstrong said it is up to groups like the American Legion to ensure the memory and knowledge about both the war and Pearl Harbor are not forgotten.
He said President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech after the attack, calling Dec. 7 a “date which will live in infamy,” is on par with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 speech at Gettysburg as the two greatest speeches in America’s history.
“For FDR it was the worst day of his presidency,” Armstrong said. “It was a transition day. The United States went from being isolationist to a global super power.”
Armstrong believed the United States is facing many new challenges such as the disintegration of families and skyrocketing drug and sexual abuse.
And, he noted, many secularists are trying to not only separate church and state, but to obliterate church from our basic structure of life. Armstrong pointed out that the pilgrims set sail across the treacherous seas to enjoy freedom of religion and that our Constitution emphasizes that freedom as well.
“It would not hurt the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or U.S. Supreme Court justices to drop to their knees and ask almighty God what He wants us to do as a nation,” Armstrong said.
Post 10 Chaplin Floyd Bacon gave the opening and closing prayers and the Honor Guard presented military honors with a 21-gun volley and the playing of taps by Glen Hunter.