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Pearl Harbor attack survivors share their stories

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    Nancy and Walter Beers of Philadelphia visited with Pearl Harbor survivor Sterling Cale on Tuesday at Pearl Harbor. Next to Cale is another local Pearl Harbor survivor, Al Rodrigues.


    Ten-year-old Madelon “Maddie” Gorman, left, hugged Sterling Cale, who celebrated his 95th birthday Tuesday, as Al Rodrigues, 96, shared a hug with Maddie’s sister, 9-year-old Jessica Gorman. The sisters were visiting from New York and their family decided to visit Pearl Harbor to pay their respects. They then happened upon the discussion by the attack survivors.


    Pictured above are Cale, Rodrigues and Delton “Wally” Walling, who were on hand for a special event that included the survivors’ talks and Cale’s 95th-birthday celebration.

Three of the heroes of Pearl Harbor took on the aura of stars as the survivors recounted some of their Dec. 7, 1941, experiences at the USS Arizona Memorial visitor center Tuesday and as the much-anticipated 75th anniversary of the landmark attack draws closer.


>> Friday: Movie on Waikiki Beach — “Twelve O’Clock High,” 5:30 to 10 p.m., Waikiki Outdoor Theater

>> Sunday: Ford Island Aerological Tower Dedication, 1 to 2 p.m., Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, Ford Island

>> Sunday: Movie on Waikiki Beach — “Run Silent, Run Deep,” 5:30 to 10 p.m., Waikiki Outdoor Theater

>> Monday: Movie and Music on Waikiki Beach — Gary Sinise & the Lt. Dan Band Concert, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; “From Here to Eternity,” 7:30 to 10 p.m., Waikiki Outdoor Theater

>> Tuesday: Ewa Plain Battlefield Commemoration, 9:30 to 11 a.m., Ewa

>> Dec. 7: National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration, 7:45 to 9:15 a.m., Kilo Pier, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam

>> Dec. 7: Attack on Hickam Field Ceremony, 7:50 a.m., Atterbury Circle, Hickam Air Force Base

>> Dec. 7: Annual Wreath Presentation, 8 a.m., Marine Corps Base Hawaii Flagpole, Kaneohe

>> Dec. 7: USS Oklahoma Memorial Ceremony, 1 to 2:30 p.m., USS Oklahoma Memorial, Ford Island

>> Dec. 7: 25th Infantry Division Commemoration Ceremony 3 to 3:30 p.m., Fort DeRussy, Waikiki

Al Rodrigues, 96, grabbed a rifle, shot back at Japanese planes and watched Japanese fighters shoot at B-17 bombers arriving from California.

Sterling Cale, 95, was part of a detail tasked with recovering bodies from the stricken battleship USS Arizona. And Delton Walling, 95, watched in horror from the heights of the harbor control tower as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field.

The National Park Service also provided a cake for Cale’s birthday. The Oahu resident was born Nov. 29, 1921, in Macomb, Ill.

“Ninety-five, and my wife is 93, and on the 12th of December we’ll have been married for 74 years,” Cale told the group.

The small gathering, moderated by Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, was part of the run-up to 11 days of events the Navy, National Park Service and 75th Commemoration of Pearl Harbor Committee are hosting under the theme “Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future.”

The 75th commemoration will be big in every sense: More than 10,000 visitors from out of state and the neighbor islands are expected, organizers said. About 300 Pearl Harbor and World War II veterans will attend. The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis is making an appearance. About 400 media members are credentialed to cover the observance.

The advancing age of the survivors, and their all-too-frequent deaths, have served to make their presence that much more poignant, meanwhile. Two of the three veterans at Tuesday’s event used walkers.

Walling, who came from California for the 75th, had a view of the unfolding battle from 180 feet in the air atop the harbor control tower.

“We all thought, ‘Isn’t this a great maneuver today?’” he said. “The orange balls on those planes didn’t even ring a bell until the little black objects started coming in, and when they started dropping out, we said, ‘What’s that?’ And when the bombs hit Ford Island, we knew we were in for it.”

Rodrigues, who also lives on Oahu and, like Cale, volunteers at the Arizona visitor center, was stationed at the Section Base at Bishop’s Point and had been on the 4-to-8 a.m. watch.

One recollection from the day was that he never got breakfast: “I just set my tray down to have breakfast when the alarm sounded — ‘Man your battle stations, this is not a drill!’”

Walling wasn’t supposed to be in the harbor control tower that day. The boxer, who always stayed fit, was on a run but decided to go up to see about a $400 debt owed him by another man on duty, who was shipping out.

Asked about the singular most riveting memory of that morning, Walling, said, “I can’t shake it out of my mind.” It was a huge explosion on the destroyer USS Shaw, whose forward magazine was hit by an aerial bomb.

Cale, a pharmacist’s mate, had also finished a night of work when the bombs started to fall. He helped pull about 45 men from the harbor, some dead, others burned.

For weeks after that he was part of a detail assigned to recover bodies from the Arizona, which had burned for 2-1/2 days.

“The first thing that I remember was when we went aboard the Arizona, was something black blowing off the ship. ‘What is that?’” he recalled. It turned out to be the cremated remains of some of the 1,177 crew members who died on the battleship.

Rodrigues was born on Kauai and moved to Honolulu after graduating from Kauai High School. “Being local and going to school here in Hawaii, more than 50 percent of my classmates were nisei — Japanese,” he said. Rodrigues said he had no animosity toward them.

Asked what he wants fellow Americans to commemorate on the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Rodrigues said, “We just have got to show love to each other. Have peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”

“I want them to remember all the individuals, all the veterans, that perished here on that day,” Walling said. “They gave their lives for the freedom that you have enjoyed for 75 years.”

A group of visitors to Pearl Harbor who happened upon the outdoor meeting listened in rapt attention to the war veterans.

Madelon Gorman, 10, visiting from New York with seven other relatives, got autographs and pictures with some of the survivors.

“I thought they were brave, and I think we should be very proud” of them, she said afterward.

Tracey Parker, 53, a cruise ship visitor who lives outside London, thought the three Pearl Harbor survivors were “amazing, absolutely amazing” because “they’ve embraced life. After such horrors they embrace life.”

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  • I think that history, as well as many people, have forgotten, that many local people were victims & survivors, of the Pearl Harbor attacks also.

    The inter-island ferry, that was sunk, only had local people on it.

    The Japanese airplanes, that shot the civilian cars on Oahu, killed or wounded the local people inside them.

    The Japanese airplanes, that shot at the civilian homes, near Pearl Harbor, thought that they belonged to the US Military.

    I believe that there are Pearl Harbor Civilian Survivors, who should also be recognized. Just like the 9-11-2001, civilian victims & survivors.

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