By Nancy Gould, Hunter Public AffairsDecember 8, 2010
HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - James Sellers, a 90-year-old Pearl Harbor veteran, choked back tears as he spoke about the events he witnessed on Dec. 7, 1941 while serving with the U.S. Marines.
"I'm not a speaker; I'm a crier," he said as he stood at the podium in the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum rotunda on Sunday. The room was packed with civilians, retirees and military representatives who had gathered to remember the Japanese attack that took the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. servicemembers without warning and injured hundreds more.
This year marks the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, established by law on Dec. 7 in 1994 by President Clinton, was officially declared to honor those who died in the attack and those who fought in World War II to protect this Nation's freedom. It also requires the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on that day annually so that generations of Americans will remember the sacrifices made at Pearl Harbor for our freedom.
Judy Weiher said she will never forget those who lost their lives that day in history. As she stepped up to the ceremonial podium, she said she still remembers the attack, although she was only five years old. Her father "jumped up during the night in his underwear and threw on his uniform" before moving the Family to the mountains, where they remained for two weeks before leaving the island. Weiher said the memories of the American ships on fire still haunt her to this day.
The Japanese hoped the incident would cripple the United States fleet that day. But, according to Lt. Col. Jose Aguilar, Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander, who also spoke at the ceremony, the tragedy only strengthened the resolve of Americans.
U.S. troops today have a lot in common with World War II veterans, according to Lt. Col. Aguilar.
"They are as brave as World War II veterans," he said, adding that fatalities during the 9-11 attack exceed those of Pearl Harbor. "Just like the Pearl Harbor, the 9-11 attack on America empowered us. And afterward, we responded with unparalleled force."
Lieutenant Colonel Aguilar said that Americans owe a debt of gratitude to all World War II veterans, but also to our fighting servicemembers today. He encouraged members in the audience to consider volunteering to help with the Honor Flights that allow aging veterans to see their World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. free of charge.
Before closing, he asked the audience to remember servicemembers who are still fighting in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan. He called out those units by name-which included the Third Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team; 92nd Engineer Battalion; and elements of the 3rd Sustainment Brigade. He also named tenant units at Hunter, which included Soldiers in the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment and the 224th Military Intelligence Battalion.
"One thing is certain," said Lt. Col. Aguilar. "Our enemies underestimate us. The American spirit is resilient; we will come together to win against our advisories regardless of the cost."