Riverfront ceremony marks 71st anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Sunday, December 9, 2012
Various District 15 Auxiliary Presidents throw their wreaths into the Mississippi River in downtown Cape Girardeau Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 during the Pearl Harbor Ceremony. (Laura Simon)

Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Southeast Missouri and those wanting to pay tribute gathered Friday at the Cape Girardeau riverfront for a ceremony marking the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The ceremony took place at the river wall at the intersection of Broadway and Water Street. It was organized by VFW Post 3838 of Cape Girardeau and its Ladies Auxiliary.

"We have men and women here from VFW posts as far away as Poplar Bluff, Puxico and Caruthersville," said Judy Biester, the Americanism chairwoman of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary and one of the ceremony's organizers. "The turnout looks good."

About 80 people attended and, after the color guard of Post 3838 posted the colors of the U.S. flag, they were welcomed by Bill Humphries, post commander.

"We thank you for wanting to join us in remembering the 71st anniversary of a day that will forever live in infamy," Humphries said. "And we should also remember its connection to our own Pearl Harbor, Sept. 11, 2001."

The keynote speaker was Jeff Heise, past commander of Post 3838.

"The Japanese's main objective was our aircraft carriers," Heise said, "but luckily they were not at Pearl Harbor. They were on their way back from Guam."

Heise said American air bases were hit first.

"They were easy targets," Heise said. "Then their bombers and dive bombers hit our fleet in Pearl Harbor. Battleships, such as the USS Arizona, were sunk. More than 3,500 men and women died that day. It was a grave time for America."

Heise spoke, too, of the men who displayed valor at Pearl Harbor, men almost forgotten because of America's segregated armed forces of the time.

"On the USS Nevada, like on all other ships in the Navy, African-Americans were limited to being stewards for the captain or serving in the mess hall. But when the bombs fell and the torpedoes shot through the water, those African-American men valiantly jumped into battle, bravely firing anti-aircraft machine guns at Japanese planes. They all survived that day, and they are truly part of what is now called 'The Greatest Generation.' "

At the close of the ceremony, a member from each post of the ladies auxiliaries cast a wreath into the Mississippi River to honor the sacrifices of the dead.

"I got goose bumps doing it," said Retha Pope, president of the Post 3838 auxiliary. "I was remembering all who died for us that day. I'll never forget them."

Sue Rogers, of VFW Post 3174 Ladies Auxiliary in Sikeston, Mo., said the 71st anniversary of the attack is no random time of remembrance for her.

"Not when it comes to my veterans," Rogers said. "My father was a medic at Normandy Beach on D-Day, and he brought home some shrapnel in his body. We should honor our veterans every day."

Olin Parks, past commander of the Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars and a Vietnam veteran, was impressed with the patriotism on display.

"Cape Girardeau has done a fine job in helping us all remember those who gave their lives on Dec. 7, 1941," Parks said. "We weren't ready for war when we were attacked. We had it thrust upon us. The men who died that day were, and remain, heroes.

The American Legion also organized a riverfront ceremony earlier in the day."

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Broadway and Water Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo

Map of pertinent addresses

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