Ceremony honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice at Pearl Harbor

ST. GEORGE — On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, more than 180 Japanese aircraft attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 American servicemen and women that were remembered during a quiet ceremony held at Tonaquint Cemetery in St. George Monday.

Dozens gather for a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor held at Tonaquint Cemetery in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

At precisely 10:48 a.m., the exact moment a barrage of planes from the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. Naval fleet at 7:48 local time in Hawaii, a small crowd came together to honor and remember those who lost their lives that fateful day 79 years ago.

The American Legion Post 90 of St. George hosted the wreath-laying ceremony where the small crowd stood solemnly while the flags were lowered to half-mast while “Taps” was playing in the background. Though only lasting a few minutes, the ceremony, capped by the reverence of rifle fire, was like a reunion of old friends that gave many the welcome opportunity to the shake the hands of people they consider cherished heroes and thank them for their service.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was the turning point in the history of the United States that was plunged into World War II, characterized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy.”

The losses suffered were catastrophic. More than 2,400 were killed and nearly 1,200  wounded, along with four American battleships sunk and nearly 350 aircraft damaged or destroyed. Those who did not die foreshadowed the grit and character that embodied U.S. service members of what many believe to be the greatest generation.

Many that made up that generation have been lost, including those living in Washington County, American Legion Post Commander, Marti Bigbi told St. George News. In fact, she said, there have been 131 funerals arranged for those who served in World War II since the beginning of the year, and 32 of them have taken place over the last three months or so.

Parl Harbor Memorial Wall at Tonaquint Cemetery during memorial commemorating Pearl Harbor attack, St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The gathering was smaller this year, she said, and consisted primarily of veterans, with the current COVID-19 restrictions that are in place. Even so, she said, gathering to remember those lost is important, now more than ever.

“We lost too many lives over there,” Bigbi said. “And we need to remember and honor these veterans — and too many people have forgotten.”

Remembering the service and sacrifice of those who were killed at Pearl Harbor as well as other battles that took place during World War II was also mentioned by Naval Capt. Ronald Lewis (ret), who added that for many Americans, Pearl Harbor is remembered as one of the great turning points in U.S. history.

He also said that remembering those who remain unidentified is of paramount importance, an issue that has led him in a quest to ensure that every service member who died will have a grave marker with their name on it.

He said that identifying the remains recovered from the USS Oklahoma was particularly challenging, since it capsized during the attack, leaving a majority of those killed submerged underwater until they could be recovered two years later when the ship was pulled to the surface.

By then, he said, the remains were skeletonized and mixed together, and separating them was an impossible task. By 1950, all of the remains had been placed in 61 caskets and buried as unknowns in the National Cemetery of the Pacific.

With the evolution of DNA technology, the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory began an identification project to identify service members that served on the USS Oklahoma that were still unidentified, and since 2015, more than 200 of the more than 400 service members have been identified and properly buried with honors.

Lewis said the project is important, because the families deserve to have their loved ones home, “it’s the least we can do for the families of these brave men and women who sacrificed their lives that morning — and it helps to give them closure,” he said.

Lewis also said the project is important to those who served as well, and is another way to honor them.

Bigbi also said that one of the purposes behind the memorial is to ensure that future generations remember the sacrifice these service members made, and hundreds of thousands of others throughout the war, which is what changed the course of history for the United States, and is what maintained the freedoms enjoyed today.

One nonprofit that is focused on working with schools and youth education programs to ensure that history is not lost forever, “Help Patriotism Prevail,” is a program that fosters patriotism among students in an exciting and engaging way while teaching the various aspects of the American Revolution that was launched by Jeffrey McKenna.

In his book, “Saving Doctor Warner –  A True Patriot”  McKenna outlines the historical events that took place before Paul Revere’s midnight ride through the streets of Boston in April 1775, and what transpired after, chronicling the efforts of Dr. Joseph Warren, the last major patriot leader left in Boston and Revere’s personal friend and mentor, who actually sent him on that ride, in an engaging story that is geared towards middle school students.

McKenna was on hand during the event to honor those who served and to answer any questions about the program.

Six St. George area veterans participated in Monday’s wreath-laying ceremony. For more information on Post 90, visit http://www.post90.org.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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