Pearl Harbor attack lives on through memories and words of those who live on

On December 7, 1941, 78 years ago Saturday, Japan launched the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2,403 military personnel and civilians, and drew the United States into World War II.

Each year, we remember Pearl Harbor and those who perished. But with time and attrition taking their collective toll, the number of those who lived it, saw it, and are still alive to tell us about it is dwindling rapidly. More than 50,000 U.S. service members survived the attack. Today, only about 2,000 of them are still living.

Photo of Pearl Harbor survivor Mickey Ganitch and CA Lt. Governor Elini Kounalakis
Pearl Harbor survivor Mickey Ganitch and California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis.
Photo courtesy of Lt. Governor’s office

Among them, Mickey Ganitch of San Leandro, spoke during the recent Veterans Day celebration aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda. Joined on stage by California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Ganitch described how he climbed 100 feet to the crow’s nest of the USS Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock, during the attack. He did this wearing football gear, expecting to play against the team from the USS Arizona in the Fleet Football Championship. Instead, a 500-pound bomb from a Japanese plane slammed into the Pennsylvania, killing 23 men while injuring several others.

Those on the Hornet that day, Kounalakis included, became part of history as well. They got to hear from one of the last living Pearl Harbor survivors, and one still in good health as he turned 100 years old the following Saturday. Ganitch worked without notes as he described the slides of his PowerPoint.

In essence, they commemorated Veterans Day in real time and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day nearly a month in advance.

At the Veterans Day event, Kounalakis paid tribute to the men and women of our armed services, and the veterans who have served and protected our country. She said, “Service to our country, the kind our military and our state department personnel engage in, is hard to understand unless you do it yourself. Less than one percent of Americans serve in the armed forces. And yet, the work of our military is essential to the everyday safety and security of every single person in our country.”

And it was an honor, Kounalakis said, to hear Ganitch recall in great detail the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Mr. Ganitch, thank you for your service to our country and protecting the freedom for all Americans,” she told him.

Ganitch’s story becomes more vital by the day, as so few survivors remain to tell theirs. The Carnation Chapter of La Mesa, the last active chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, deactivated in September.

Many Pearl Harbor survivors simply did not join the organizations, perhaps not wanting to repeatedly relive the horrors of the attack, or because they just didn’t want to belong to organizations.

That fewer and fewer Pearl Harbor survivors are around to tell their stories means fewer and fewer people will get to hear them and cherish them.

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