SOMERS POINT — A crowd of veterans and their supporters gathered Sunday on the city’s Bay Avenue beach to pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
Bombing and strafing of military targets by Japanese pilots during the early morning brought the U.S. into World War II and gave birth to the greatest generation of defenders of U.S. freedom, said Jim Donohue of Ocean City, commander of AMVETS Post 911 in Somers Point, which hosted the event.
But the more recent attacks on the homeland by Islamic extremists were also very much on everyone’s minds.
“We remember Al Matthews and Al Darby,” Donohue said of the two Pearl Harbor veterans who died in the last few years, leaving South Jersey without any local Pearl Harbor survivors. “But we also remember the 14 American victims slaughtered by Islamic terrorists last Wednesday in San Bernardino, California.”
The workers from the San Bernardino Health Department were killed during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center by a co-worker and his wife. Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, were later found to hold extreme fundamentalist Islamic views and to have an arsenal of weapons, ammunition and bombs in their home.
The alleged terrorists were killed in a shootout with police later in the day.
“Be prepared. You may not want war, but war may want you,” said keynote speaker Tom Innocente, of Somers Point, a Vietnam-era veteran who served six years active duty with the U.S. Navy on submarines in the 1960s. His home base was Pearl Harbor, and he served with Pearl Harbor survivors, he said.
Atlantic County’s last two Pearl Harbor survivors were Al Matthews, of Somers Point, who died in 2014 before the Pearl Harbor ceremony; and Al Darby, of Absecon who died in 2012. So this was the second year the ceremony was held without survivors living in the county.
Innocente said the Japanese made many mistakes in Pearl Harbor. Among them was not taking out the U.S. submarine fleet.
“They paid little or no attention to submarines,” said Innocente, who also served 28 years in the reserves.
As a result, the U.S. began using submarines offensively to go after Japanese ships. Until Pearl Harbor they had largely been used defensively, Innocente said.
“We paid a terrible price,” he said. One in four U.S. servicemen assigned to submarines died in World War II.
Attending the ceremony were two World War II veterans who served on submarines, William Capo, 88, of Absecon; and Chester Ogden, 92, of Linwood.
Capo said he was 15 when the Pearl Harbor attack happened, and he wanted to enlist but his mother would not sign the paperwork to allow it.
“I tried to alter my birth certificate, but I ruined it,” he said. So he enlisted at age 17, he said.
Ogden served on the U.S.S. Cabezon, he said. Launched in 1944, it conducted its first war patrol from May 25 to July 11, 1945 in the Sea of Okhotsk, sinking a 2,631-ton Japanese cargo vessel on June 19.
There is another Pearl Harbor Day ceremony set for today in North Wildwood.