Pearl Harbor remembered at moving Brooklyn Borough Hall ceremony
More than a dozen WWII vets proudly attend
In a Borough Hall ceremony that brought tears to many eyes, Brooklyn World War II veterans, including Pearl Harbor survivors, commemorated on Monday the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
On that date “which will live in infamy,” 2,403 U.S. citizens were killed and more than a thousand injured, and the U.S. was launched into World War II.
Roughly 18 WWII vets, many well into their 90s, attended the ceremony. Among those honored were Rev. James Blakely, a WWII veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, who received a Special Service Award. Blakely enlisted in 1939 and served aboard the St. Louis.
Blakely received heartfelt applause from the crowd as the details of his service were read and he stood to receive his award from David Webb, director of the Young Marines National Foundation and a radio talk show host.
Blakely was aboard the St. Louis during the Pearl Harbor attack. A bomb shockwave shuddered through the vessel but the ship was not directly struck. Torpedoes launched by a midget submarine also narrowly missed the ship and she retaliated, destroying the sub. The St. Louis was the first Navy ship to leave the harbor and achieve open water, and her sailors performed “above reproach” in the battles that followed.
Borough President Eric Adams was presented with the first-ever Greatest Generation Service Award by Toba Potosky, president of the Cadman Park Conservancy, and two brothers from Brooklyn who served in WWII, Jack and Roy Vanasco.
Adams has provided roughly a million dollars for the restoration of the Brooklyn War Memorial, built to honor Brooklyn residents who served in WWII, including 11,500 Brooklynites who died in the war. His funding kick-started further backing from the New York City Council, state Assembly, state Senate and Parks Department, so that the restoration fund now has roughly $5 million.
“It’s so important that we honor the borough president because without that spark I don’t think any of us would be standing here today — and your staff has done an outstanding job,” said Potosky, who has been working with veterans to return the memorial into its former glory.
“Everyone recalls Dec. 7,” BP Adams said. “I recall Dec. 8 because … it wasn’t what happened when our enemy hit us with their best shot on the 7th. It’s what we did on the 8th — we got up. We understood that no matter how we felt that we would continue to move forward.”
Vets from each of the armed services stood with pride when the American Bombshell Singers belted out renditions of “The Wild Blue Yonder,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Halls of Montezuma,” and “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”
The U.S. Navy Brass Band Quintet played taps during the solemn wreath ceremony and closing prayer.
Representing the Army was Col. Peter Sicoli, Army Garrison Base (USAG) at Fort Hamilton. Over 327,000 Brooklyn residents served in WWII, Sicoli said, calling it an “unbelievable” number. Fort Hamilton was a key mobilization center during WWII. Today it’s a joint facility for the military, one of the two largest in the U.S.
Also speaking were state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Brooklyn Historian Ron Schweiger, WWII Historian Jason McDonald and Chaplain Donald W. Ehrke, Major, USAG Fort Hamilton.
Check back for a video of this event.
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