Pearl Harbor event draws vets, families

December 09, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

It was not until after World War II ended that Harold Hart, a former Hagerstown resident, learned many details about the Pearl Harbor attack that occurred 61 years ago Saturday. He was busy dealing with other military conflicts in the Philippines at the time.

Hart is one of the dwindling number of survivors of the Bataan Death March.

Asked if the notorious march in which many were killed was as bad as books and documentaries suggest, he said, "It was worse."

Hart, 80, of Frederick, Md., was one of about 200 people who attended a second annual Pearl Harbor remembrance event at the headquarters of Hagerstown VFW Post 1936 on Saturday.


The event was free to veterans and their families, who made up the majority of the crowd.

The event, co-sponsored by the VFW post and the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County, included patriotic singing, food, jitterbug dancing performers and an 18-piece band of veterans, the Tristate Stage Band, who played World War II-era music.

Speener Hose, a World War II veteran who is the Veterans Council president and a former commander of the VFW post, organized the event.

Last year, the anniversary was remembered with a parade through downtown Hagerstown.

It is important for veterans to get together and remind people of what they went through in the war, especially since war veterans are dying at a rate of about 1,000 a day, Hose said.

Hart and three friends enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps soon after graduating from Hagerstown High School in 1941. After training, he was sent to the Philippines in November 1941, about one month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hart said.

It was not until he returned home years later that he was able to get a full account of what happened in Hawaii that day because he was soon captured in the Bataan Peninsula. Along with many others, he was forced to march more than 50 miles and do hard labor to stay alive. Thousands were killed and died of malnutrition and other ailments.

Hart said he volunteered for work detail in order to get food and water, which was scarce, so he could remain as strong as possible. Still, his weight dropped to about 95 pounds at one point, he said.

During 3 1/2 years as a prisoner of war - first in the Philippines and later in Japan - Hart helped build an airport runway, dig nickel mines and do whatever work was required, he said.

Veteran John Leather of Hagerstown, 78, attended Saturday's event wearing his military uniform.

Leather tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected because he was flat-footed, he said. But he was drafted in April 1943 and went on to serve in military operations in Belgium and France among other places, he said.

Leather and Hart said it is important for people to remember the war and the veterans actions.

"We are getting older and dying off," Leather said.

All veterans should speak to clubs and in schools to let people know what they experienced, Hart said.

Veterans Hose, Hart and Leather expressed concern that younger generations take their freedom for granted and do not know about and appreciate the actions of what journalist Tom Brokaw termed "The Greatest Generation" in a book of that name.

Leather and Hart said Brokaw's book prompted veterans who were previously silent about their war experiences to start sharing memories with family and friends. The two men said they were among those affected in that way.

Before, Leather said, "Nobody would believe us. We are opening up more now."

"I never got into the horrors of it," said Hart, who was given the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and other honors.

He has spoken at clubs since the publication of Brokaw's book, and he spoke briefly at Saturday's event, Hart said.

In his book "An Album of Memories: Personal Histories From the Greatest Generation," Brokaw includes a note Hart wrote to Brokaw about his experience. The book also includes a picture of Hart and a note he sent his mother from a Philippines military prison camp.

"Mother: I received your letters and box," the note read. "I appreciated the box very much; but what I need most of all is food and clothing. Food first."

"It was very much an honor to be included in the book," Hart said.

Hart's daughter, Joleen Hart, read his biography aloud at Saturday's event.

Hart considers himself a survivor, not a hero, she said, but she considers any American who survived the war a hero.

The Herald-Mail Articles