LAKEPORT, Calif. – Dozens of community members gathered in Lakeport on Saturday to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Braving the chilly temperatures, the group gathered at the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association's memorial mast in Library Park for the raising of the flags, invocation, a rifle volley from the Lake County Military Funeral Honors Team and the playing of “Taps.”
The memorial then moved across the street to the warmer conditions found in the council chambers in Lakeport City Hall.
The annual event featured one of the county's two remaining Pearl Harbor survivors, 89-year-old Bill Slater of Lakeport.
Slater, a quick wit and gifted storyteller, served aboard the USS Pennsylvania. During the attack, he had gone below deck to carry up ammunition due to a broken hoist, and so narrowly missed being hit by a bomb that killed two dozen men.
“I think it's highly appropriate that we meet here today and spend a few moments to remember the 2,400-odd people who gave their lives on that day,” said Slater.
Not in attendance this year was 95-year-old Henry “Andy” Anderson, of Lakeport, who served aboard the battleship USS Tennessee.
Slater and Anderson are the last two local men to have survived the 1941 attack that killed more than 2,400 people and wounded another 1,200.
According to the National World War II Museum, the Japanese force that attacked Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning, shortly before 8 a.m., were 353 aircraft launched from four heavy carriers, two heavy cruisers, 35 submarines, two light cruisers, nine oilers, two battleships and 11 destroyers.
The attack destroyed or damaged eight battleships and 11 other US Navy ships, according to a museum fact sheet.
Slater was joined by Alice Darrow, a “sweetheart” in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
She is widow of Dean Darrow, who had served aboard the USS West Virginia and died in 1991. He had been blown off his ship and hit with a bullet as he was being pulled from the water, with the bullet later removed successfully by doctors.
Charlotte Bower, another sweetheart whose late husband Chuck had been at the US Sub Base, was unable to attend due to health issues.
The annual event, organized by Clearlake Oaks residents Ronnie and Janeane Bogner, featured Middletown High School sophomores Hannah Flynn and Asia Firebaugh singing the national anthem as a duet, and guest speaker Tom Engstrom, Lakeport's retired police chief and current mayor.
Engstrom's father, who died in 2004, served during World War II. Engstrom brought with him a shadow box of his father's medals and military insignia.
In honoring the local Pearl Harbor survivors, Engstrom said he had wanted to give Slater the key to the city, but couldn't find it. “I wouldn't know what to do with the key if I had it,” Slater quipped.
Engstrom explained that by 1941, Germany already had begun hostilities in Europe, while the United States was concerned about Japan. Early that year, President Franklin Roosevelt moved the US Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor.
There had been a strong anti-intervention movement, which Engstrom said dissipated after the Japanese attack.
The day after the attack, the US declared war on Japan, with Roosevelt calling Dec. 7 “a date which will live in infamy.”
Engstrom said his own father spoke little of the war, but when asked, he would reply, “We were just doing our job. It was our duty.”
With a breaking voice, he promised Slater and Darrow that they would not be forgotten.
Slater, during the “ships and stations” portion of the event, recounted that after surviving the attack, the most scared he was during his service was as he prepared to leave the Navy.
He boarded the heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City in Japan and headed home in October 1945, but the trip wasn't smooth as the ship neared Astoria, Ore.
“The worst day I ever had at sea – and I never had a bad day – was when we crossed the Columbia River bar, and I was for sure that g**damned ship, that old tub, was gonna capsize,” he said.
He said he was afraid he was going to die on his last day in the service.
“It's funny now, but it sure wasn't funny then,” Slater said.
He recounted that the incident made the front page of The Oregonian newspaper.
The Oct. 23, 1945, edition of the paper carried a story recounting how the Salt Lake City nearly capsized.
“Huge waves at the mouth of the Columbia rolled the cruiser to 47 degrees, short of the 55 degrees that would have sent the ship over,” the article explained.
The article stated that 449 enlisted men set for discharge were board.
Darrow recounted the story of her late husband, who she met at Mare Island, where he was sent for medical care in 1942. She was then a young Navy nurse.
During the attack, Dean Darrow saw the USS Arizona blow up, and his own ship took seven torpedo hits. He was blown off his ship and into the water, which was on fire, but being a good swimmer, he was able to swim under the flames and get to a nearby boat.
As he was being pulled from the water he was strafed by a Japanese fighter plane, with the bullet lodging in the muscle of his heart, a fact which doctors would discover months later after he had repeated fainting spells.
In April of 1942 he was scheduled for heart surgery, a rare procedure at that time, and elicited from his young nurse a promise that she would go on liberty with him if he survived, which she wasn't sure he would. So she agreed.
After carrying the bullet in his heart for nearly four and a half months, Dean Darrow underwent successful heart surgery and the bullet was removed.
He and his nurse went on liberty, had a great time and were married later that year, going on to raise four children together.
Alice Darrow said her husband often said the best thing he got from the Navy was his nurse. As for the hole in his heart the bullet left, she said she filled it with her love.
She pulled the bullet out of her pocket to show the audience. Ronnie Bogner said he had checked the bullet, which is 7.7 millimeters, the size used in the guns on the Japanese airplanes.
The morning ceremony also included the tolling of a bell for the local Pearl Harbor survivors who have died over the years.
Vietnam veteran Bill Kearney helped close the ceremony by leading the singing of “God Bless America.”
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.