Pearl Harbor at 80 and my Arizona three

December 7, 2021

Spread across the top of the front page:  WAR EXTRA !  Underneath that banner:  THE CHICAGO SUN  Under the masthead:  U.S. – JAP WAR!

At full broadsheet 17 x 22 size, the type immediately takes the reader back to a time when there were thousands more questions than answers.  When the American populace was only beginning to absorb the enormity of what had just happened and the sacrifice and pain yet to come.

And Western Union telegraph operators began keying the first of over 400,000 “We regret to inform you…” telegrams from the War Department that would be sent before the horror at last came to an end.

While newspaper front pages from that “Day of Infamy” are still easily acquired, what made this piece a must have for me was the wall from which it hung and the home from whence it came.

A little over two weeks ago I found myself at an estate sale.  For a collector of all things Americana my wallet can muster, it was nirvana.

As I brought my first find back to the cashier, a model of the Titanic stopped me in my tracks. I turned and asked, “pardon me, but who’s house is this?”  to which she replied “Shirley”.  “Allen. Shirley”? I asked. “Yes” came her reply.

And I took a full gut punch right there.  I wasn’t aware that he’d passed, and though I never had a chance to meet him, I had admired him from afar reading the numerous articles on his passion for history and dedication to preserving it.

Suddenly my “mission” went from a few pieces to a this is a once in a lifetime, you will never pass this way again moment.  Money that I’d been saving for other things suddenly became available.

One of the pieces I acquired was on Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona and three “men” on duty that day.  “Men” is in quotes because on the day of the attack not one was over the age of 21.

On this 80th anniversary of that day when a perfect Sunday morning turned into an infernal from hell in minutes, I share with you the three men and some words from that piece.

“Joseph L. Lockard  “On December 7, 1941, a 19-year old Joseph Lockard was one of two soldiers manning the brand-new radar station at a hilltop at Opana Point on the northern tip of Oahu popping up that sent the shimmering light all the way to the top of the glass.  It was the first wave of what turned out to be 360 Japanese aircraft, and the beginning of an attack on Pearl Harbor that would bring America into World War II.”

Unfortunately, Lockard’s chain of command dismissed it as a flight of B-17’s due in from San Francisco and the Japanese achieved total surprise.

Lockard served until the end of the war and made a civilian career as an inventor and development engineer.  He had over 35 patents to his name and died November 2, 2012 in his Harrisburg, Pa. home.

“Earl Riner who was a 20-year-old survivor of the attack on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941.  His uniform was burned off his body and he spent several months in the hospital recovering from his burns.”

After working as civilian employees at Perrin Air Force Base, Earl and his wife Frances retired young, built one of the first homes in Paradise Cove on Grand Lake, Ok.  On March 9, 2012 he left us to join his beloved Frances.

“Lauren Bruner was a Petty Officer 3rd class who was a fire control man who received burns over 70% of his body in the huge fireball that engulfed the fire control crow’s-nest where he and five other men were trapped.”

According to the USS Arizona Memorial Foundation, Lauren passed away in La Mirada, CA, September 10, 2019.  At a sunset ceremony on December 7 that year he became the 44th and final survivor to have his ashes interred  with his crew mates of 78 years past.

Only two members of the Arizona crew remain with us.  Retired Lt. Commander Lou Conter and petty officer first class Ken Potts.  Both celebrated their 100th birthday this year.

When they pass, we will lose the last personal connection to the Arizona.

And to that time when a nation sucker punched and capped at her knees came back with a grit and determination that not only avenged the treachery of December 7th but saved the world as well.

The monuments and museums are all well and good, but it’s the thousands of Americans like Allen Shirley, that truly keep their memories alive and their service never forgotten.

Thank you, Mr. Shirley, that I now have a chance to further what you started.

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