81 years later, veterans reflect on Pearl Harbor, last generation of WWII troops

  • From right, Nancy Adams, secretary of Rolling Thunder Vermont Chapter 1, and chapter President Jeff Neipp speak in front of the symbolic table remembering lost soldiers at the French King Restaurant in Erving on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Mark Ellis, a member of the Marine Corps League Pequoig Detachment 1168, speaks during a breakfast at the French King Restaurant in Erving on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Veterans and others gathered at the French King Restaurant in Erving on Wednesday to commemorate Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day with ceremonies and breakfast. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Veterans and others gathered at the French King Restaurant in Erving on Wednesday to commemorate Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day with ceremonies and breakfast. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2022 6:15:30 PM
Modified: 12/7/2022 6:15:08 PM

ERVING — Veterans gathered at the French King Restaurant on Wednesday to honor the lives lost at Pearl Harbor on the 81st anniversary of the attack.

When the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, it killed than 2,400 Americans, including civilians, and wounded another 1,000 people. This event is known as the catalyst for the United States’ involvement in World War II.

“We are safe in our country because of what our veterans have done,” Mark Ellis, a member of the Marine Corps League Pequoig Detachment 1168, said in a speech on Wednesday morning.

Rolling Thunder Vermont Chapter 1, an organization dedicated to advocating for full accountability for prisoners of war and service members who are missing in action, organized the speeches and sponsored the accompanying free breakfast for veterans.

Nancy Adams, secretary of Rolling Thunder Vermont Chapter 1, detailed the symbolic elements of a table that was set up to raise awareness of soldiers who are missing in action. The table was white to symbolize the purity of each soldier’s readiness to respond to their country’s call to arms. On the table sat a single red rose, symbolizing the blood “they shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of America,” Adams explained.

There was also a plate with a piece of lemon and salt on the table. The lemon represented a lost soldier’s bitter fate and the salt represented the tears their family cries. An upside down glass represented how the soldiers are no longer here to toast, and a candle represented hope. There was also a Bible on the table to show that families keep faith that their lost family member might still return.

“Some call them POW or MIA,” Adams said. “We call them brothers and sisters.”

In a speech, Christopher Demars, director of the Greenfield-based Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans’ Services District, explained that there were 22 men from Massachusetts who died in Pearl Harbor, one of whom had a Franklin County connection.

One common theme that tied together multiple speeches is that the veterans who fought in World War II are quickly dying. According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, only 167,284 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive in 2022.

With few firsthand accounts of World War II left, the speakers emphasized it is more important than ever to know their stories.

“We are on the verge of the last generation,” said Jeff Neipp, president of Rolling Thunder Vermont Chapter 1.

Ellis also spoke about the fact there would not be another attack on American soil after Pearl Harbor for another 60 years, until the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He said this period of peace lasted so long because of the “people in this room” — veterans. Soldiers, he added, are “the backbone of the security in America.”

Bill Phelps, a veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces Green Berets who now lives in Greenfield, recounted a story of Pearl Harbor he had heard from a family member. He said his uncle sat peeling potatoes when the U.S. naval base was attacked. Because his weapon was locked up in the armory, his uncle and a friend resorted to throwing potatoes at the low-flying planes, feeling defenseless during the attack.

At the end of the breakfast, Doug McIntosh, Rolling Thunder chaplain, said a prayer: “Out of the agony of this event may arise a new and better world in which we shall live.” Contact Bella Levavi at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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