Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vallejo’s annual ceremony on Monday to reflect on Pearl Harbor and “a day of infamy,” has been canceled.
However, local veterans as well as people around the nation won’t ever forget what happened to the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu in 1941.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941 the base was met with a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on the United States. Japan intended the attack as a preventive action to keep the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with its planned military actions in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. The U.S., which had not yet entered World War II and was neutral, entered the war the next day.
Since there was no formal warning, particularly while peace negotiations were still apparently ongoing in Washington, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim the day as “a date which will live in infamy”.
Vallejo’s Luther Hendricks, 95 and one of the first ever Black Marines who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2012, surely won’t forget.
“I remember being young and mad as hell,” Hendricks said. “I mean, they were talking peace apparently in Washington D.C. with Roosevelt. So I immediately went out the next day and tried to join. At that time I remember it being the fate of the world. We needed to whip these people.”
Hendricks learned about the attack while listening to the radio in Los Angeles, but he couldn’t join the Marines right away because at that time Blacks weren’t allowed to join. That all changed in 1942.
“It took me two years to get over there,” Hendricks said. “But I was thrilled and at a loss of words that I could help my country.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many feared the next strike could have been on Mare Island’s Naval Shipyard. Despite the base closing in 1996, it was once the U.S. West Coast submarine port as well as the controlling force in San Francisco Bay Area shipbuilding efforts during WWII.
“Mare Island had something like 50,000 employees over time and I just think of all the sacrifices people made there during that time,” Veteran and longtime Vallejo military activist Nestor Aliga said. “More artillery units were brought in and there was submarines going up and down the West Coast to prevent another sneak attack.”
The sneak attack is what bothers Hendricks the most about that day in 1941.
“The Japan ambassador is talking peace with Roosevelt at that time and they sneaked up on us,” Hendricks said. “It taught us that we always have to be on our toes and that it could happen again. We can’t stop being on guard. That first time, we weren’t ready and we didn’t believe it could happen. We were relaxed. But from now on if you step on our toes, we’ll be ready to fight.”
Hendricks did his part helping the allies win the second World War. He was given the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2012 and the Vallejoan said he couldn’t have been happier.
“If I had buttons on my shirt, they were ready to bust off with the pride I had,” Hendricks said, with a laugh.
This year another type of sneak attack hit the United States as the coronavirus pandemic canceled any plans for longtime veterans to meet up in big groups and honor those who fought and those were lost 79 years ago.
Mickey Ganitch, a 101-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor, usually attends a ceremony most years since the mid-2000s but will have to observe the moment from California this year because of the health risks.
“We’re respecting them by being there, and showing up and honoring them. Cause they’re really the heroes,” Ganitch said in an Associated Press story this week.
The National Park Service and Navy, which jointly host the event, also have closed the ceremony to the public to limit its size. The gathering, featuring a moment of silence, a flyover in missing man formation and a speech by the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, will be livestreamed instead.
Kathleen Farley, California chairwoman of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, told the Associated Press that many survivors are already talking about going to Hawaii next year for the 80th anniversary if it’s safe by then.
Farley, whose late father served on the USS California and spent three days after the attack picking up bodies, has been attending for two decades. The USS California ran aground on Mare Island Launch Day in 1919.
Aliga said that while the 2020 ceremony has been canceled, veterans in the area are already talking about a big event for the 80th anniversary in 2021.
Aliga didn’t fight in WWII, but he knows the importance of the day.
“I think of what happened that day and I think how close we were to being ruled by the Japanese or Germany,” Aliga said. “We have to remember this day. Like the philosopher George Santayana said, ‘Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.’”