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Anniversary awakens vets’ memories of Pearl Harbor

BRADENTON — Duane Randolph was 16 and visiting family in New London, Ohio, that Sunday afternoon almost 70 years ago.

Bill Field was 9 and remembers his mother preparing the family’s Sunday dinner in East Hampton, Long Island.

Kathleen Ortner was 5, one of seven children, and recalls the commotion at home in Pittsburgh after the radio news bulletin:

The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.

Randolph, Field and Ortner, all veterans, were among the participants at American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24’s ceremony Monday commemorating the 68th anniversary of that historic date — Dec. 7, 1941.

It was solemn occasion, with speeches and moving renditions of the national anthem and “God Bless America,” punctuated by taps and a 21-gun salute.

The ceremony resonated with those in attendance.

Now 84, Randolph recalled being at his older half-brother’s birthday, but the party spirit dissipated after the announcement about Pearl Harbor.

“We sat there, listened, and didn’t know what to think. It really shook us up. Nobody thought something like that would happen,” he said. “I was just a young guy, but I knew they’d get me and they did.”

Randolph was drafted in 1943 and spent World War II with the ground crew of the Eighth Air Force in England, maintaining B-17s.

“I was lucky and happy to be part of it,” he said.

The stunning news about Pearl Harbor found Field at his potato farming family’s home.

The chicken dinners his mother fixed, a Sunday tradition, were always a big deal, Post 24’s commander said.

“But hearing about Pearl Harbor on the radio — that was the big deal,” said Field, 77. “We knew it meant war. I had several uncles who went in. Everybody got involved.”

His war would come in Korea as an Army infantryman, but he fears the Pearl Harbor anniversary will lose its significance in time, especially when compared to 9/11.

“These are things we grew up with. This is our living history. If you don’t know your history, you have a tendency to repeat it,” said Field said, paraphrasing Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s famous quotation. “That’s unfortunate. Our younger generation does not know history.”

Ortner does.

Like Field, she was in the Army during the Korean War, but as a stateside member of the Women’s Army Corps.

Ortner, 73, recalled how the Pearl Harbor news shocked everyone, but it was the president’s famous Dec. 8 speech she remembers most.

“Even though I was a little girl, all I could think of was President Roosevelt’s voice — ‘A date which will live in infamy,’” said the Post 24 Honor Guard member. “We were brought up to be patriotic, to serve our country in any way. That started with Pearl Harbor.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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