Pearl Harbor ceremony honors locals lost, heroic acts

World War II Marine Corps veteran Bill Robinson, right, of Preston becomes emotional during the playing of taps at the end of the Pearl Harbor ceremony at Norwich City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.  Army Air Force veteran Paul Boyer, left, of Norwich and Robinson were the only WWII veterans in attendance.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
World War II Marine Corps veteran Bill Robinson, right, of Preston becomes emotional during the playing of taps at the end of the Pearl Harbor ceremony at Norwich City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. Army Air Force veteran Paul Boyer, left, of Norwich and Robinson were the only WWII veterans in attendance. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Norwich — Pearl Harbor may be a few thousand miles away, but the attack on the U.S. military facilities there 76 years ago Thursday was felt strongly in southeastern Connecticut, dignitaries said during a memorial service marking the anniversary.

Two of the 17 Connecticut Navy servicemen killed in the attack that began at 7:48 a.m. (12:48 p.m. Connecticut time) on Dec. 7, 1941, were from Norwich. Photos of Navy servicemen Harry Carlson and Mike Quarto, along with a model of the battleship USS Arizona, destroyed in the attack, stood on a table in front of the podium in the City Hall plaza Thursday during a memorial ceremony hosted by the Norwich Area Veterans’ Council and the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

Rozann Valenti of Bozrah, Quarto’s niece, and Rosalyn Lachapelle of Voluntown, Carlson’s niece, attended Thursday’s ceremony and accepted flowers from sub base sailors after veterans’ council Chairman Dennis Baptiste read an account of the attack on the Arizona, on which both Norwich men served.

In all, 1,177 men were killed on the Arizona. Most remain entombed inside it on the ocean floor.

The veterans' council rang the city's Freedom Bell once for each of the 17 Connecticut servicemen killed at Pearl Harbor as council Vice Chairman John Waggoner read the names.

“Naval Submarine Base New London knows the story of Dec. 7th and the attack on Pearl Harbor well,” the base commander, Capt. Paul Whitescarver, told the audience of more than 50.

He read an account of the heroism of Commander Cassin Young, who had just completed his tour of duty as executive officer of the base in Groton in 1941 to take command of the repair ship USS Vestal.

The Vestal was moored in Pearl Harbor across the pier from the Arizona when the attack began. Young took charge of the ship’s anti-aircraft guns as the ship caught fire. The Arizona's magazine exploded and he was thrown overboard, Whitescarver said. Young swam through the burning oil in the water back to the ship and rallied his sailors, who had prepared to abandon ship.

Instead, the crew knocked down the fires aboard the vessel and picked up survivors from the floundering Arizona and maneuvered the leaking Vestal across the harbor.

“His heroism that day was later recognized with the Medal of Honor,” Whitescarver said.

There was a silver lining for the U.S. Navy that day, he said. The Japanese attack failed to hit the Naval Submarine Base in Hawaii, and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz later wrote that he looked to that force to “carry the load” in the Pacific until new surface ships could be built.

“And carry the load, they did,” Whitescarver said, “developing and leveraging new technology and tactics; the submarine force, comprising just 1.6 percent of the Navy, sank 30 percent of the Japanese Imperial Navy and 60 percent of the Japanese Merchant Marine.”

That success came with great sacrifice, however, as the submarine force also suffered the highest loss rate of any U.S. Armed Forces, with 52 submarines and 3,500 men lost.

“Today, we remember that war’s beginning for our nation,” Whitescarver said, “the attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago. We honor those lost. We honor those who survived. And we honor those who, on the front lines or in support, helped turn the tide to victory.”

c.bessette@theday.com

Sailors from the Naval Submarine School at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton bow their heads during a prayer at the start of the Pearl Harbor ceremony at Norwich City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Sailors from the Naval Submarine School at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton bow their heads during a prayer at the start of the Pearl Harbor ceremony at Norwich City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
World War II Army Air Force veteran Paul Boyer, left, of Norwich and Army/National Guard veteran Brian Hague, right, of Waterford look at the display of photographs of two local men that died aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, boat models and books that Hague set up for the Pearl Harbor ceremony at Norwich City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
World War II Army Air Force veteran Paul Boyer, left, of Norwich and Army/National Guard veteran Brian Hague, right, of Waterford look at the display of photographs of two local men that died aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, boat models and books that Hague set up for the Pearl Harbor ceremony at Norwich City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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