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Remember Pearl Harbor

December 6, 2012
The Leader Herald

On Dec. 7, 1941, America was stunned. President Franklin Roosevelt told Congress it was "a date which will live in infamy."

Stan Czelusniak of Broadalbin was still in high school when the Japanese unexpectedly attacked and devastated the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Czelusniak, an Army veteran, recalls the event as a real blow to America, but, he said, "we just had to pick ourselves up. A lot of people never expected it."

Two other local veterans recalled that the war came so fast the nation wasn't immediately prepared.

"I felt the world was going to change for us [young men]," said Robert Erhardt of Canajoharie, who was 20 when he heard the news.

He tried to volunteer in the Army the next day, but the Army wasn't ready to accept recruits that quickly.

Erhardt said "word had leaked out" by then that the Germans were exterminating people and "we knew we were going to have to stop that."

Ernest White of Mayfield was drafted into the Army at age 22 and first was sent to the Philippines, but he was turned around because "the Japanese beat us there," he said.

Instead, he was sent to one of the Hawaiian islands that had very little defense - some 50-caliber machine guns and "a dirt airfield."

But Czelusniak said the nation fortunately had a lot of industrial muscle.

"The Japanese underestimated us," he said. "We could recuperate really fast."

Czelusniak, an Army veteran, said the nation mobilized its industries, such as the steel, automotive and locomotive companies, to a wartime footing "in the blink of an eye."

Erhardt was with the American occupation force in Japan after the war ended. He said he found the Japanese to be "a great people" who learned American democratic ways very quickly.

The Japanese initially were afraid the Americans would take their women as the Russians did with the Germans, he said, but that never happened because of "the decency of this country."

On Friday, Pearl Harbor Day, these tales bear retelling because a nation that forgets the goodness of its past, the ideals of its founding and the sacrifices of its veterans is a nation that has no future.

No American who stepped on the battlefields after Dec. 7, 1941, wanted to face injury or death, but as White put it, "We just knew we had a job to do."



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