Groups organize to ensure people 'Remember Pearl Harbor'
Herb Weatherwax, a 99-year-old World War II veteran, reported for duty in the National Park Service’s volunteer program two decades ago and plans to continue sharing stories of the Pearl Harbor attack as long as he’s able.
Weatherwax, who came off a weekend pass on Dec. 7, 1941, to witness Oahu’s destruction, said he hopes World War II Valor in Pacific National Monument visitors hear the cautionary message “Remember Pearl Harbor” and gain a deeper understanding of its meaning through his experiences.
“The thing to remember, the way things are going, is that this can happen now. Don’t be like we were: Our nation didn’t get involved in any conflict until President Roosevelt and President Truman decided it was enough,” he recently told visitors from five countries.
Weatherwax’s autobiography is sold at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
He also participated in the Pearl Harbor Interview Series and the Witness to History Teleconference Educational Program, which helps American schoolchildren learn about the attack by communicating with survivors.
Myriad organizations, including the National Park Service, are working on more technologically advanced ways of preserving historic voices.
Some advances will be unveiled by the 75th Commemoration of the Pearl Harbor Attack, a series of events slated to run Dec. 1-11.
The commemoration might be the last opportunity for some witnesses and survivors to share in-person experiences, said Randy Stratton, director of USS Arizona Final Salute and son of Donald Stratton, one of the battleship’s few living survivors.
“We lost three survivors in the last year,” said Stratton, who is bringing the survivors and about 60 of their guests to Hawaii for the commemoration. “They are all in their 90s. Now there are only five people on earth that know what happened that day and what hell they went through.”
Stratton said his father and a fellow attack survivor, Lauren Bruner, were manning a crow’s nest that was hit by a fireball. Stratton said they and others escaped when Joseph George, who was on the repair ship Vestal, threw them a rope, which they climbed across with charred hands.
Stratton said it’s crucial that this story and others are preserved and shared in ways that appeal to the next generation.
The National Park Service, which has collected more than 1,000 oral histories from military and civilian survivors of the attack and WWII, is among the organizations leading that charge.
Daniel Martinez, WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument chief historian, said phase one of a new digital portal could launch by Dec. 7.
“Smartphones and computers can be used to access 3-D scans of the USS Arizona and underwater revisualizing,” Martinez said. “We’re also scanning casualty records of those that lost lives. The records, which will probably be available by the end of 2017, will provide a clearer picture of the individuals so that they are not just names.”
Tim Davis, who heads The Greatest Generations Foundation, said the nonprofit is working on a multimillion-dollar virtual reality app, which will allow visitors to Pearl Harbor and other Oahu World War II battle sites to “see and feel what survivors lived through.”
“In 22 minutes you’ll witness the planes coming in and listen to survivors, some 100 years old, talking about what’s going to happen,” he said. “These men will take you back and put you in a position of greatness.”
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