American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad meets with World War II veterans and Pearl Harbor survivors at Remembrance Day observances in Hawaii. (Photo by John Raughter)

Pearl Harbor 77 years later: forging the future, remembering the fallen

In recognition of their dwindling numbers, American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad made it a point to meet several of the few Pearl Harbor veterans left as he attended the battle’s National Remembrance Day Commemoration Friday morning in Hawaii.

“The theme for the program this year was ‘Forging the future,’ but we all know that it is the heroes of the past that have ensured that America even has a future,” Reistad said. “This is the very reason that The American Legion’s founders included a pledge to ‘preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars.’ We have a responsibility to educate future generations about the honorable sacrifices that have been made so that we can have the freedom that we all enjoy today.”

Following the memorial service, Reistad and a delegation that included American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Gregg "Doc" Gibbs, rode a transport boat alongside the USS Arizona Memorial in tribute to its fallen crew. The Arizona Memorial, which is closed for renovations until the spring, sits above the actual wreckage of the ship that sustained almost half the total casualties of the attack.

Passengers who boarded the transport boat were given floral petals and remembrance cards with names of fallen crew members from the Arizona and other ships that were attacked. Names on the cards given to the Legion delegation included Ensign Carl Alfred Weeden, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ardenne Allen Woodward, Seaman 1st Class Paul Eugene Shiley, Seaman 1st Class Edward E. Talbert and Marine Pfc. Carl Edward Webb.

“These young men never grew old but what they did on that day had a monumental impact on the world,” Reistad said. “But seeing actual names as we were riding in such hallowed waters added a personal element to a solemn day of remembrance. These men were fathers, sons and brothers. They had people who loved them.”

None of the five living USS Arizona crew members were able to attend this year’s service, marking the first time that the crew had no living representative at the ceremony.

While it was clear that the passing or absence of so many veterans that she knew over the years moved her deeply, Superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Jacqueline Ashwell vowed that their legacy would be forever remembered.

“For so long as there is a United States of America, a flag will fly over the USS Arizona Memorial and the National Park Service will continue to tell your story,” she said. “Your unconquerable spirits will live forever.”

Her message was reinforced at the ceremony by Navy Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

“We can never forget the heavy price paid 77 years ago… 21 vessels damaged or sunk, 170 planes destroyed, more than 2,400 dead and 1,200 wounded – soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and civilians,” Richardson said. “Despite these heavy losses, it did not break the American spirit – in fact it charged it. We quickly prepared for the long hard war to come.”

After acknowledging the recent passing of World War II Naval aviator and president, George H.W. Bush, Richardson stressed the need to continue to tell their stories.

“That is why ceremonies like today’s, and organizations like the National Park Service, are so important ... to educate and inspire future generations to work toward a better future,” he said. “And since World War II the United States has continued to play an active role in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Following the remembrance events, Reistad and a delegation of Legionnaires from national headquarters met with Air Force Major Gen. Kevin B. Schneider, chief of staff for Indo-Pacific Command. The meeting covered topics pertaining to Reistad’s upcoming visits to South Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan and Japan.