CM3 Montgomery Miller, left, and Lt. Joseph Sronce of the Navy Reserve salute after placing a memorial wreath onto Lake Decatur during the Pearl Harbor Remembrance ceremony at the Nelson Park docks Friday morning. More photos at herald-review.com
DECATUR — Veterans and residents continued a solemn tradition Friday of recognizing the lives lost in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 77 years ago and the Americans who withstood the attack and have since died.
"Most of the witnesses are no longer with us, but the legacy of men and women who defended Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy will always be felt," said state Rep.-elect Dan Caulkins, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War who spoke to the gathering at the Beach House restaurant on Lake Decatur. "This was a day that defined America and changed the world."
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack that killed 2,403 people and decimated the U.S. Pacific Fleet shocked the nation and led to the United States entering World War II. Japan used six aircraft carriers with 353 aircraft and covered about 4,000 miles to make the attack.
Sterling Wilson, who served in Burma with the Army Air Corps during World War II, said he was at home with his parents in Decatur when he heard the news on the radio of the Japanese attack in Hawaii.
"I remember it was a nice day, and I was outside enjoying the weather," he said moments before the Macon County Honor Guard and Veteran’s Assistance Commission of Macon County conducted a rifle salute and the playing of taps. "We were just stunned by the news, as I'm sure everyone was."
The U.S. Navy provided a wreath to place on Lake Decatur from a dock in Nelson Park.
Standing before Congress the day after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy." He said the United States was "suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan," but promised inevitable triumph "so help us God."
Lt. Joseph Sronce, a veteran of the wars in Aghanistan and Iraq, was one of the Navy reservists that carried out the wreath ceremony.
"It's important to remember the history of our nation and the people that fell and served before us, sacrificed their lives for our way of life and country," Sronce said. "I'll continue to do it until the day I die."
Sronce, 38, was one of the younger participants in the ceremony at Lake Decatur. Orval Mechling, a Korean War Navy veteran, said it's important to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive for younger Americans.
It took until Sept. 2, 1945, for World War II to come to a close when Japan formally surrendered aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, at the cost of millions of lives worldwide.
"Our country stands for freedom and peoples' rights and our young people should be taught that — that people sacrificed their lives to have the freedom we share today," Mechling said. "And if somebody doesn't keep doing it, it's not going to happen."
PHOTOS: Pearl Harbor ceremony at Lake Decatur
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Contact Tom Lisi at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @tommylisi