Touring the Pearl Harbor Memorials - WBAY

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Survivors Tour the Pearl Harbor Memorials


It's forever known as a date which will live in infamy -- December 7, 1941.

More than 70 years later, a group of Wisconsin veterans who survived that attack returned to Pearl Harbor one last time. Thanks to an Old Glory Honor Flight, these veterans spent four full days in Hawaii.

During that time, they visited all the areas which came under siege and all the memorials which now pay tribute.

For each veteran, there was a special moment in their journey back in time.

When Japanese planes roared over Oahu on that unforgettable Sunday morning, their bombs and guns took aim at targets far beyond Battleship Row.

Cookie Koch was at Hickam Field that day, in the barracks when the attack began.

"My bunk was right about up here on the second floor," he points. "I saw these high-level bombers coming over, and that's when we took off for the parking lot to get some cover."

He points at the building, remembering, "That's the door I came out."

There are still bullet holes in the stairs Cookie ran down. Splatter marks still blanket the building from all the shrapnel and strafing.

"When I was under the car with another boy from the 72nd, right at the attack he says, 'My foot's gone.'"

Cookie suffered third-degree burns, but he's one of the lucky ones, he says. 182 men died at Hickam.

"Sure glad to get this opportunity to come back again," he said.

Of the 18 veterans returning on this trip, five served at the Army's Wheeler Airfield and Schofield Barracks.

Jerry Jerome is back to see the 25th Infantry Division.

"This is my outfit," he remarked. "I was here when they formed the 25th Division on October 1, 1941."

Before leaving, Jerome pays tribute at the Schofield Memorial.

As the tour bus approaches Wheeler Field, it's Ken Sweet's time.

"Then we saw the Rising Sun, and you knew instantly we were at war," Sweet recalls, "and in that instant is when I grew up."

When the bus approaches Wheeler Field, Sweet takes the microphone. Thirty-three men died at Wheeler that day, and Sweet says some of the historical accounts just aren't right, like which buildings were hit.

"Hate to correct anybody, but twice on the tour I heard the bombs striking that building, the first one. I hope we're all corrected." And he handed back the mic.

Back on Ford Island, Herb Meyer reflects at the USS Oklahoma Memorial. Perhaps more than any veteran here, he lost the most on December 7th.

"Two or three of my best friends," Meyer recalls. "Because they stayed down and they were stationed on the 14 magazines, they were supplying ammunition to the gun chambers above, and they were trapped down there and they held the lights for others to so they could get off." Meyer breaks down.

429 men died when Okie capsized. Meyer was one of the last sailors off.

His friends are among 13,000 World War II soldiers, known and unknown, buried at Punchbowl Cemetery, a scenic site overlooking Honolulu.

Clyde Stephenson is here to pay respect to his brother Glen, a pilot killed during the war, and his best friend Earl Wallen, who died at Pearl Harbor.

The Punchbowl is also where Firman Balza's life changed nine years ago. Until a visit here, he never talked about the war.

"A thought occurred to me as I looked out over that cemetery: Most of these kids never got to be 20 years old, and they've been here all this time," says Balza.

He continues, "And I said, if they could say something, just exactly what would they say? And just like that, I don't know what it was, I can't explain it, was like I was possessed. When I got home I started talking to anybody who would stand still and listen... Anybody who would invite me to go and say what I had to say, I would go over there. And I'm not talking for myself; I'm talking for all those kids that are still on top of that hill who never got a word to say to anybody.

"And you know, I've been shooting my mouth off about this and I'll probably do it til I die."

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