Community Commentary: A day of infamy, 70 years later

Local legend Jack Hammett is probably best known for having been on the Costa Mesa City Council for two terms; during that eight-year period starting in 1970, Hammett served for a time as the city's mayor.

Hammett is also co-founder and — for 26 years — administrator of the Bristol Park Medical Group. He was a reserve Costa Mesa police officer for more than two decades and is a past president of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce.

But, at 91, Hammett's most vivid memory is probably of the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor by the armed forces of imperial Japan. Hammett was a naval corpsman, stationed at that Hawaiian harbor on the sleepy Sunday 70 years ago that came to live in "infamy."

Hammett is chairman of the Freedom Committee of Orange County. The members of Freedom Committee talk to high school groups and civic organizations in an effort to bring what they refer to as "living history" into the classrooms and conversations of the local community.

On a recent rainy Sunday at the Costa Mesa Historical Society's parkside locale, Hammett delivered a riveting first-person account of that deadly day.

It started with a bang on his apartment door. When Hammett at last answered the early-hour intrusion, he was relieved to discover that it was his landlord collecting the rent. Soon thereafter, Hammett and his new bride, Mary Jo, who had joined him in Honolulu only a short time before, began to hear explosions in the distance. Quickly, they learned that the island was under attack; all military personnel were ordered to their posts.

Starting out the presentation, Hammett, dressed in the official Pearl Harbor survivor outfit of white slacks, an aloha shirt and an American Legion-type garrison cap, showed a 20-minute video segment of a CBS tribute to Pearl Harbor, produced and televised in recognition of the 50th anniversary.

The black-and-white film clips of carnage and photo footage of the inferno unleashed by an aerial bombing remained disturbing still. Moreover, the pre-recorded program provided a quick overview of the event, as well as an appropriate segue into Hammett's Pearl Harbor presentation, which he shared in a heartfelt but unvarnished fashion.

We heard of the blood and gore entailed in battle as Hammett spoke of his historic and horrific experience. Images of stacked corpses and severed body parts permeated Hammett's talk, and he told it with authority and authenticity.

Though Hammett's frank manner made clear the starkness of the situation, it is not the viscera of the story that's likely to linger in the minds of attendees; rather, it is the bright idea that such value-centered qualities as dedication, bravery and resilience can sustain us in times of crises. Just ask Jack Hammett.

BEN MILES is a Huntington Beach resident.

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