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Hundreds pay tribute to remaining Pearl Harbor survivors

  • Pearl Harbor Survivors Association chaplain Herb Louden salutes the presentation of the colors at the annual memorial on Monday, December 7, 2009. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

The attack on Pearl Harbor happened a long time and quite a few wars ago, but about 200 people braved the chill Monday morning to demonstrate to a few, grayed veterans that the 1941 Day of Infamy still matters to them.

Many participants in the breakfast and memorial at Santa Rosas Veterans Memorial Building shook the hands of the Pearl Harbor survivors, none of whom is much younger than 90, and thanked them for their service to the country.

Former Navy submariner and retired schoolteacher Frank Sennello of Santa Rosa told the crowd that a decade ago the local chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association boasted 150 members.

Now, feast your eyes on the remnants, said Sennello, 88.

Sixty-eight years after the surprise attack on Oahu that drew the United States into the war, only Sennello and three other local Pearl Harbor veterans Bill May and Jesse Love of Santa Rosa and Herb Louden of Petaluma were able to make Mondays observance.

Keynote speaker Jean-Marie Heskett of Santa Rosa recounted the horrors and the few bright spots she knew as she spent nearly all of World War II in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. She said shell be grateful to all veterans, and in particular to those who liberated her and her family in February 1945.

If it werent for you, I wouldnt be here today, Heskett told the gatherings WWII vets.

Louden, who served aboard the hospital ship Solace, tolled a small bell as Sennello read the names of each of the North Bay Pearl Harbor survivors who have died in recent years. Two members of the diminishing brotherhood passed on this year.

Donna Hicks Nihill came to the memorial breakfast with the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association cap worn for many years by her late father, Bob Hicks. He was a crewman on the USS Phoenix, a light cruiser, when Japanese planes struck a devastating blow on the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

He was 17 when all that happened to him, Nihill said. Her father died in 1991 and her mother, Rose, remained a faithful associate member of the regional Pearl Harbor Survivors Association chapter until her death this past Oct. 16.

Being a part of this group became a very big part of their life, Nihill said after the commemoration.

As veterans of Pearl Harbor become less and less, she said, Im seeing more and more their importance and their place in history.

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