December 7th marks the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The two hour sneak attack by the Japanese left nearly 20 American naval vessels and more than 300 airplanes destroyed. Over 2,000 lives were lost and another 1,000 American soldiers and sailors were left injured. Three days later, after Congress approved President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request to wage war on Japan, the United States joined other nations in World War II.
Much has changed for America since that day, but the feelings that survivors have about that day have not changed. Earl Brandes, Ed Guthrie, and Lawrence Osterbuhr were stationed in Honolulu the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Now, 75 years later, all three men are back in their home state of Nebraska–Brandes is 95, Guthrie is 97, and Osterbuhr is 96.
“We’re really comrades,” Brandes said. “There’s not too many people left our age.” The three men used to be part of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Nebraska chapter, but the group disbanded after December 2011 after the national organization decided there were too few members around to warrant a group. Since the group’s disbandment, the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, a group started in 1958, has helped to preserve the memory of those who served during the attack. “The Sons & Daughters wanted to make sure nobody forgot about Pearl Harbor,” Peg Murphy, Ed Guthrie’s daughter and the leader of the Nebraska chapter of the Sons & Daughters said.
Donald Stratton, another Pearl Harbor survivor from Red Cloud, Nebraska remembered the attack when he was a Seaman 1st Class aboard the USS Arizona. He and 1,177 shipmates managed to escape the Arizona for a neighboring ship and were spared during the attack. Stratton is now 94 years old, residing in Colorado Springs.
“The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, seemed like any other. We worked out a little bit and ate chow. I grabbed a few oranges to bring to a buddy of mine who was in the sick bay. Then I walked out onto the deck and saw some sailors congregating on the ship’s starboard side. They were looking across the water at Ford Island, an islet in the center of Pearl Harbor, and they were hollering — planes with the Japanese Zero insignia were banking through the sky.‘Oh, hell, it’s the Japanese!’ somebody shouted. ‘They’re bombing the water tower on Ford Island.’ We watched the tower fall and planes on the runway over there burst into flames,” Stratton said.
Across the nation, December 7th is a national day of remembrance. In El Paso, Colorado, Jim Downing was made a member of the El Paso County Commissioners just as a commemoration announcement for Pearl Harbor Day was announced. “My message to this generation: You are the leaders, you are the taxpayers, you are the voters, you are the legislators. Weakness invites aggression; keep America strong,” Downing said. “I want to keep America so strong that no adversary will ever think of attacking us.” Downing is one of the oldest living survivors at 103 years old.
In Hawaii, the war memorials for the attack are alive and thriving. This December 7th, people from all backgrounds will stand on Kilo Pier with the USS Arizona Memorial behind them to remember what happened. At the memorial, visitors can see pieces of metal from the downed ship in the water. The metal is still wet with oil that continuously leaks from the ship 75 years later. In addition, Hangar 79 at the Pacific Aviation Museum holds artifacts recovered from the site.
December 7, 1941 was a day of great loss for our country. It entered us into a war and the pain of the attack is still felt by survivors today. Now, we remember those who lost their lives in service to our country and try to keep their memory alive.
On December 7th, and every day, we remember the great sacrifice our soldiers and sailors made. The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to assisting veterans in all aspects of their lives, including helping those who are in need of assistance while transitioning home from the battlefield. You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.