Ceremony to remember Pearl Harbor set for Friday

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The anniversary of the day that will live in infamy -- Dec. 7, 1941 -- remains a time to remember one of the most tragic and consequential events in American history.

In keeping with the remembrance of that day 71 years ago, VFW Post 3838 of Cape Girardeau at 2 p.m. Friday will have a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony at the river wall at the intersection of Broadway and Water Street.

It's the fifth time the VFW has sponsored the ceremony in a joint effort with its Ladies Auxiliary, to honor the men and women who didn't survive the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Hawaii's Pearl Harbor.

"We're expecting a big turnout," said Judy Biester, the Americanism chairwoman of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary. "Other VFW posts will also be coming. So far, I've received word that 10 posts will be sending representatives from as far south as Caruthersville and as far west as Doniphan."

Biester said the ceremony will consist of a welcome to those in attendance followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. The speaker will be Jeff Heise, past commander of VFW Post 3838. The end of the ceremony will be marked by the casting of wreaths into the river as a tribute to those who didn't survive.

More than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,200 wounded in the surprise attack on the base, that resulted in a declaration of war on Japan.

Bill Humphries, commander of Post 3838, said the ceremony also is to remember the sacrifices made at Pearl Harbor and in the years that followed.

"If anyone has the time to attend the ceremony, they should," Humphries said. "We as Americans should always remember what happened on Dec. 7, 1941. Millions of American men and women went to war after that. The date holds a special place in the hearts of the veterans who are still alive to remember how things were."

Melvin Kuehle, 89, of Cape Girardeau is one of those veterans. The commander of the color guard at Post 3838, Kuehle was working in St. Louis at the time of the attack.

"I'd been out on the Saturday night before and had done a little partying," Kuehle recalled. "I was still in the process of recovery on Sunday when the radios started giving the news. It was a very emotional time. Nobody could believe what had happened."

Kuehle was drafted by the Army after he turned 19, and he was placed in the Army Air Corps, a forerunner of today's U.S. Air Force. He served in Australia and on nearby islands building and maintaining airstrips, but in 1945 he was sent to Yokohama, Japan, as part of the occupation force after the Japanese surrendered. He was discharged from the service that year.

John Dragoni, 87, of Cape Girardeau also remembers the attack. Dragoni, also a member of the local VFW, was living in Ipswich, Mass., at the time.

"I was driving into Boston that day to pick up my sister," Dragoni said. "I heard all about it on the radio in the car."

Dragoni remembered men who were rushing to Army and Navy bases and recruiting offices to enlist.

"It was a duty," he said. "Everyone was so mad at the Japanese they couldn't wait to get into the service."

Dragoni entered the armed forces after he turned 18 and, like Kuehle, entered the Army Air Corps. He was trained as an aerial gunner in a B-17 bomber, and was a member of one of the first squadrons to firebomb Tokyo. He also was assigned to a B-29 in the China-Burma-India theater, where his plane made bombing runs and ran fuel into China above the Himalayas. Dragoni flew 18 combat missions.

"The Japanese damn near killed me," he said, "but that's war, I guess."

Dragoni and Kuehle are unsettled by what they perceive to be a lack of young people not knowing about the horrific day.

"We don't seem to be educating our children about what happened," Kuehle said. "The attack changed everything forever, and it's tragic that more and more young people don't know much about it, if anything."

Dragoni said he's seen the ignorance about Pearl Harbor firsthand.

"I've gone out to different schools to talk to kids about my experiences," he said, "and they don't know what Dec. 7 is."

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Broadway and Water Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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