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Patriotic Article
War and Tragedy
By USAF SSgt. Mike Meares

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Hickam Officials Pay Tribute To Airmen's Storied Legacy
(December 12, 2009)

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Master Sgt. John Sieh salutes the flag as F-15 Eagles fly a missing man formation Dec. 7, 2009, during the 68th Remembrance Ceremony at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The ceremony marked the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks on Pearl Harbor Navy fleet and the Army Air Corps fields of Hickam, Wheeler and Bellows. Sergeant Sieh is from the 15th Airlift Wing protocol office and the F-15s are from the 199th Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard.
Master Sgt. John Sieh salutes the flag as F-15 Eagles fly a missing man formation Dec. 7, 2009, during the 68th Remembrance Ceremony at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The ceremony marked the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks on Pearl Harbor Navy fleet and the Army Air Corps fields of Hickam, Wheeler and Bellows. Sergeant Sieh is from the 15th Airlift Wing protocol office and the F-15s are from the 199th Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard.
 HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (12/8/2009 - AFNS) -- Airmen and their families gathered at Hickam Air Force Base's historic flag pole Dec. 7, for the 68th remembrance ceremony to honor those men and women who lost their lives in the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor.

"On a similar morning 68 years ago on these very grounds, our world changed forever," said Col. Giovanni Tuck, the 15th Airlift Wing commander.

"The Japanese attack on Hickam Field, 'a day that will live in infamy,' stated by the president to Congress, was one of the defining moments in U.S. military history," he said.

The Hickam AFB honor guard raised the flag while the Pacific Air Forces Band performed the national anthem. Four F- 15 Eagles from the Hawaii Air National Guard flew a four-ship missing man formation during the ceremony.

The Hickam Air Force Base ceremony featured a performance of "Lest We Forget," a song written by Chief Master Sgt. Larry MacTaggart, a member of the Pacific Air Forces Band. The event coincided with a ceremony conducted by the Navy at the
Arizona Memorial. At the end, the honor guard's rifle report from a three-volley salute resounded over Atterbury Circle, the site of the flag pole. "Taps" followed.
"The story of the largest airborne attack force ever assembled by the Imperial Japanese navy is one worth remembering just as it was," said Hawaii Lieutenant Governor James Aiona Jr., the guest speaker. "No exaggeration is needed for effect. No tall tale is needed to help us remember. It is a story that lives forever in our hearts and it has united us in a common memory."

An unannounced military strike conducted by the Japanese against the U.S. naval base and Army Air Corps air fields on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, just before 8 a.m., thrust the U.S. into World War II. The Japanese navy launched from the decks of aircraft carriers with the intent to cripple the U.S. Navy fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor.

Stories of heroism provided a glimpse into the past; stories about Airmen watching the first wave of attacks from the windows in their homes immediately recognizing the call of duty, despites pleas from their wives to stay home; stories about civilians who understood the need to save important financial documentation, eventually giving their lives in the attempt; and stories about an officer who opened a manhole cover during the attack to protect fleeing men from the consolidated barracks, giving his life in the effort to save every man who entered the whole.

"The attack on Dec. 7, 1941 steeled America's resolve and brought out the best in our nation during its darkest hour," Governor Aiona said. "Which I believe is a testament to all those involved."

Several Hickam Field survivors of the attacks and their family members were among the guests in the crowd. Sylvia Phillips is the widow of retired Maj. Claude Phillips, then a technical sergeant who rushed to a hangar to man the gun of a damaged B-17. He is credited with shooting down a Japanese Zero and was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

Retired Col. Vane Ward Burnett, represented by his widow Helen Hurnett and sons, Ira and George, was an aviation cadet on duty at Hickam Field's communications center. He witnessed the attack on Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor from the second floor windows of the building. Colonel Burnett passed away in Nov. 21, 2009.

Col. Sam Barrett, from the 15th AW vice commander, represented his mother's cousin, Tech. Sgt. Charles Brunson, who survived the multiple Japanese attacks on Hickam. He was killed six months later in New Zealand as a crewman aboard a B-17 that crashed during take off with a full bomb load.

Retired Col. Andrew Kowalski was a master sergeant in the consolidated barracks now the Pacific Air Forces headquarters. On the morning of the attacks he was designated the casualty control officer.

"It was a fancy name for counting the dead," Colonel Kowalski said. "The bodies were laid out everywhere. It was a sad day seeing people trying to identify who was still alive; very traumatic."

After witnessing the ceremony 68 years after the infamous day he survived, he fought to choke back tears remembering and talking about the events that transpired.

"Events like this bring back these memories," the 95-year-old man said. "You feel grateful and humble that the good Lord has given you this long life and you hope that you have used it rather than abused it."

The veteran's stories from that day are becoming more and more legendary as the generation to have survived this attack gets older.

"They help us perpetuate the legacy of that fateful day as a living tribute to the character and service to an entire nation," said Governor Aiona. "Sixty-eight years later we continue to gather with great conviction to honor those brave men and women who lost their lives. In all, 189 men died at Hickam Field, members of the greatest generation -- gone."

To the veterans and their surviving family members present, "We draw from all of you great strength and know you have placed a sacred trust in all of us who wear the uniform," Colonel Tuck said. "You have entrusted our great nation into your very capable hands. We will not let you down. You are the foundation on which our United States Air Force stands and will certainly not forget."

Article and photo by USAF SSgt. Mike Meares
15th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Copyright 2009

Reprinted from Air Force News Service

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