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Pearl Harbor, 66 years after the attack

December 07, 2007

A year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, The Herald-Mail asked some local residents how the events of that day had changed their lives.

Marc Pierne, then 19, said that "It was our generation's version of Pearl Harbor. It's the first time our generation has seen terror, has seen an attack on the United States."

For a generation of U.S. citizens now in their 80s, "Remember Pearl Harbor" was a rallying cry for Americans determined not to allow that sneak attack of Dec. 7, 1941, to become a prelude to defeat and conquest by the Japanese.

The attack began at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, just after sailors serving on ships docked at the deep-water port were finishing breakfast.

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Official Naval history records said that some of the sailors were surprised, but not alarmed, because Navy planes sometimes practiced bombing runs in the area with dummy loads.

But then came the first explosion and the USS Utah began to sink, the first of a number of ships that would be damaged or destroyed that day. In less than three hours, more than 2,400 Americans were killed.

There were local members of the armed forces who were there to see that horrible event and, over the years, The Herald-Mail has told some of their stories.

In 2001, The Herald-Mail interviewed Hagerstown's Norman Bentz, an Army veteran who was 23 at the time of the attack.

He and a buddy were in the barracks when the bombing began.

"I looked out the window and saw a low-flying plane swooping over the entrance to Pearl Harbor channel. When it zoomed up, I saw the red circles on its wings," he said.

During the attack, many Japanese rounds hit the barracks, but Bentz said no one was injured.

"When the (USS) Arizona exploded, we couldn't even see the sun," said Bentz.

In 2005, Richard Belisle interviewed Lester Jay Stone, who was a communications officer at the time of the attack. Many of the images that survived are a result of his actions.

"I called the photo lab and told the photographers to start taking pictures during the attack. ... A lot of the photos they took are still around today," he said.

Only three blocks away from Battleship Row when the attack took place, Stone recalled that when the USS Arizona exploded, "things started to fall down around us."

In 2004, Andrew Schotz interview J. Maury Werth, who was stationed aboard the USS Raleigh when the attack began.

"I was down in the men's room and I felt a jolt," Werth said. "I thought a boiler had blown up."

It had not. Instead, the ship had been torpedoed. Werth took his battle station at the starboard battery, where, according to a report by his commanding officer, he did "a splendid job."

Last year, reporter Erin Julius interviewed 91-year-old Vernon Swain, who described the attack in vivid terms, including his first experience being shot at.

"I can still see him sitting in that plane ... I can still see him sitting in there cranking bullets and they were all flying around me and my buddy. The Lord was with us because they didn't hit us," Swain said.

On Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, declaring that Dec. 7 would be "a date that will live in infamy," asked Congress to declare war.

We recall these things not to stir up animosity against the Japanese, who are now strong allies in the Pacific region.

We do it to remind readers that what U.S. citizens have today - America and its freedoms - were purchased with the sacrifice of many who came before this generation, including some who died at Pearl Harbor more than 60 years ago today.

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