Courier Staff Writer
Do today’s younger generations recall the incident that prompted America’s entrance into World War II?
Today is the 71st anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the destruction of the USS Arizona and the Pacific Fleet.
The bombing attack claimed more than 2,400 American lives and served as the pivotal moment in the United States going to war during World War II. But the number of survivors are dwindling, and official ceremonies marking the day are fewer and fewer.
And yet, there are still efforts under way to make sure the “date which will live in infamy” isn’t forgotten.
Ottumwa World War II veteran Dick Keep, 88, of Ottumwa, said he appreciated his granddaughters’ teachers offering lessons about World War II, including Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust in Europe.
Keep said he was one of the first soldiers to tear down the gates at a concentration camp that had a crematorium.
He also had to help take down 11 holding camps. One place still had 35 people in the camp, which was where Adolph Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” and used slave labor.
Buchenwald, another German camp, sickened Keep.
“It’s amazing. There are people who never heard of these camps and didn’t understand how humans could make others suffer like that,” Keep said.
He tried to bury some of the people, and the ranking lieutenant kept Keep busy because he could speak some German.
At one village, the townspeople — “every man, woman and child” — had to drag the bodies to the railroad cars for transport and burial elsewhere.
“We buried the bodies, and even the adult bodies weighed maybe 35 pounds,” Keep said.
Fellow Ottumwa veteran Earl Finley, 85, hopes younger generations will never forget the attack at Pearl Harbor. Although he did not serve in Hawaii, he did serve below deck on a battleship in the Panama Canal and Cuba area.
“The Japanese bombed the ship, and I’ve never forgotten it,” Finley said. “The Japanese bombers flew into the American planes.”
He’s not happy with so-called soldiers who ran off to Canada because they didn’t want to serve.
“The soldiers who stayed then had no one to lean on,” he said. “Those who ran off should have gone to serve like the rest.”
Finley also noted he had two older brothers who served during World War II, a younger brother who served during the Korean War and a son who was in the Vietnam War.
Will Finley continue to honor the Pearl Harbor anniversary?
“I won’t forget it,” he said.
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