VETERANS HOME OF CALIFORNIA, Barstow --
“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered that speech Dec. 8, 1941, the armed forces of America had lost 2,403 souls the previous day, including 68 civilians, and 1,178 injured; eight Navy battleships were damaged or sunk and 188 aircraft destroyed in the Sunday morning attack as most of the Pacific fleet laid moored in the idyllic Hawaiian port.
Most of America knew by then where the innocuous sounding Pearl Harbor was located.
Of three World War II veterans, now residents of the California Veterans Home Barstow, Calif., one of them, George Warren, had no idea where Pearl Harbor was when he heard on his car radio of the surprise Japanese attack.
“I thought ‘Who do these guys think they are?’” the 89-year-old Warren said.
But the native of Prince Edward Island, Canada, who immigrated to Waltham, Mass., did know that he, along with thousands of other shocked and grim Americans, was ready to fight for the country he loved. The next day, Warren left his job working for the Raytheon Corporation in Massachusetts and signed up for the Army.
I was in the Army Air Corps,” Warren said. “I became a gunner on a Boeing B-24 “Liberator” heavy bomber.”
Marguerite Gene Arenesen, Gene to her friends, was working as an engineer for Johnson and Johnson, designing conveyor belts in New Brunswick, N.J., when she learned of the tragedy.
“I went down to a big hotel to enlist,” the 89-year-old said.
“All of the services had desks set up and were taking people as fast as they could sign up,” she said.
“When I got to the head of the line I asked for the Marines, and they sent me to one desk where I signed up, then I found out I was in the Coast Guard.”
Thomas Sugg, born in Texarkana, Ark., was working as a machinist for the railroad in Sedalia, Mo., when Pearl Harbor changed the path of the United States forever.
Sugg joined the Navy and soon found himself landing on beachheads throughout the Mediterranean.
“I was (landing craft infantry) and the first guy off the boat with a grappling hook attached to a rope to anchor the ladders used by the 130 men aboard to get on to the beach,” the 92-year-old Sugg said.
“Grappling hook guys were usually the first ones killed on an LC,” he added.
Nationwide, Pearl Harbor Day is remembered as one of the most destructive attacks to American lives and property during peacetime until the assault on the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001, eclipsed the death toll with 2,996 killed and 6,000 wounded.
Some words of advice from some original American heroes when tragedy strikes.
“Step up and do your duty when called on,” Sugg urges.
“Do something to help, even if it’s volunteering to answer phones,” Arenesen said.
“The reason America is a great country is because we’re not afraid to stand up for ourselves or our allies. I may not like the U.S. being used as the world’s policeman, but you can’t back down when threatened by a tyrant,” Warren concluded.