50th Anniversary ‘Proud Time’ for O.C. Survivors
For Orange County’s survivors of Pearl Harbor, Saturday’s 50th anniversary commemoration of the attack that jolted America into war was an opportunity to stand as heroes before the nation. But it was also a time for family.
“I could look around at all the faces of wives, sons, daughters and grandchildren in the crowd,” said Tony Iantorno, who woke his own family at 3:30 a.m. to make sure they got to the ceremony on time to see President Bush speak. “How proud they were of their dad.”
Iantorno, a resident of Long Beach and president of Orange County Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn., said he also took the family on Friday to a cluster of oil tanks and refineries at the tip of the harbor. The site was once occupied by Camp Malakole and the antiaircraft battery where Iantorno and his fellow soldiers were finishing up breakfast that fateful morning when they heard the drone of approaching planes.
“Dec. 7, 1941, was a big surprise to me,” Iantorno said on Saturday after the ceremonies. “But this might come second. I am drained from all the excitement.”
Indeed, the weekend belonged to those veterans of a critical time in America’s history.
President Bush joined the thousands of veterans for emotional ceremonies, reunions and speeches Saturday morning at the battleship Arizona memorial and other spots at Pearl Harbor to pay tribute to those who died.
For one speech, the President was introduced by Lenore Rickert of Laguna Hills, who was a nurse on duty at the Naval Hospital when the attack took place.
Rickert delivered a two-minute speech as the President sat nearby, recalling her experiences during the chaos 50 years ago as the hospital staff filled beds with the injured.
Before giving up the microphone, Rickert got a kiss from the President.
“I was so dry that I never thought I would get my mouth open,” Rickert said afterward. “It is not every day that you sit between the President and the secretary of defense and make small talk.”
Even those veterans of the attack who didn’t share the stage with high-powered politicians came away from the day with a renewed sense of their importance to the nation.
“This is a proud time for us old guys,” said Del Lachquement, 73, a resident of Huntington Beach who was a U.S. Marine Corps quartermaster at Pearl Harbor. He was one of about 150 survivors from Orange County who made the trip to Pearl Harbor for the observance. “My memories of 50 years ago are as vivid now as they were then, and that goes for each of us here.” He said 50 years have not dimmed the camaraderie of those who survived the war together.
“We like to pick on each other like we did 50 years ago,” Lachquement said. “We practice these (World War II) stories so each time we tell them, we get a lot braver.”
Lachquement said that for many of the survivors this memorial observance is the climax.
“Our numbers are dwindling rapidly,” he said.
And, with that, the vestiges of antagonism for the attackers.
“Many of us thought there would be a lot of Japan-bashing, but that is not what happened,” Lachquement said. “Fifty years is enough.”
“I agree,” said Paul Weisenberger, 76, of Westminster. “There is no earthly reason to carry on (any ill feelings). We should remember Pearl Harbor and leave it where it is.”
Weisenberger, who was a Navy machinist aboard the Helena when it was hit while it sat in port, said the memories resurfaced when he visited the harbor with shipmates this weekend, “When we compare stories, we can pretty much nail it down. It had a big impact on all of us.”
Iantorno said many of the veterans spent the days preceding the ceremony sitting at the beachfront hotels trying to spot people they had last seen 50 years before.
After all the reunions and ceremony, some of the survivors said that the importance of the day was to hand a page of history to the younger generation.
“It is real educational for the kids,” said John Iantorno of Newport Beach, who served in the same anti-aircraft battery as his brother, Tony, and a cousin. “I am going to send them here for the 100th anniversary in honor of all the servicemen who fought.”