An estimated 50,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed on the island of Oahu when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 80 years ago. While no one knows for sure, it’s believed there may less than 100 of the survivors of that fateful day still alive.
For the first time, there were no Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance for the USS Midway Museum’s ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the attack that thrust the United States into World War II. The focus of the ceremony turned to honoring the families of the survivors.
“It’s been 80 years since Pearl Harbor, so finding survivors who are healthy enough to attend is difficult at best,” said Bob Schenkelberg, the son of Clayton Schenkelberg, a Pearl Harbor survivor who died last April at the age of 103. “Even without survivors in attendance, I think it is still worth the effort the Midway goes through to put on this ceremony. It was important to dad. There were too many lives lost and people critically injured to not remember Pearl Harbor.”
It was also the first year that Bob and his younger brother Patrick attended the ceremony without their dad, a torpedoman at the Pearl Harbor submarine base during the attack.
“It’s really hard,” said Patrick with a tear in his eye. “When we were driving here, I thought about dad and what all this meant to him. Now it’s up to us to carry on. It’s why I’m here.”
The ceremony on Midway included a wreath laying and 2-bell ceremony to honor those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor as well as the tens of thousands of survivors who have passed away over the last eight decades.
“On this 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we honor the memories of the more than 2,400 Americans who died,” said Paul Ward, Midway’s volunteer chaplain. “We must remember the courageous resolve of those who stood and fought for our cherished ideals, and their sacrifice in the cause of freedom.”
The guest speaker was Cmdr. Bralyn Cathey, the commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn (DDG-113). The ship was commissioned in 2017 in tribute to John Finn, who was chief petty officer at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Oahu during the attack. Finn was the first Medal of Honor recipient in World War II for his heroic actions on the morning of Dec. 7.
“Today is a stark reminder of the many planes, ships and lives lost,” said Bralyn. “It’s also a reminder of who we are as Americans. People who love this country, serve in this Navy and what it means to fight for other people.”
A missing-man flyby accompanied by echo taps concluded the ceremony.
“This is the best way for me to honor my father, by making sure people never forget,” said Kathleen Chavez, daughter of Ray Chavez, who was assigned to minesweepers when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He passed away in 2018. A San Diego County post office was recently named in his honor.
Ellen Derby McCollum’s father, Woody Derby, was serving on the battleship USS Nevada that morning. Woody passed away at the age of 101 two years ago.
“It’s on us now,” said Ellen. “We need to make sure people remember who these guys were, and what they did.”