Today is Pearl Harbor Day

Today is Pearl Harbor Day

For me Pearl Harbor Day is a day of remembrance. It’s the day that I remember the sacrifices that members of my family made in order for us to enjoy our freedoms today. Of course, they didn’t know it at the time. For them it was something that they had to do.

USS Arizona at Pearl HarborFor my father and his family December 7th began as every other Sunday in Brooklyn. First, they attended Mass, then they had breakfast. After some chores they sat down around the radio to listen to the Sunday football game: the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yes, Brooklyn had a football team in 1941.

Suddenly, the network broke in to announce the attack against the Pacific Fleet. They all listened intently except my Uncle Bob who after realizing the import of the announcement quietly put on his jacket and headed off to sign up. My grandmother asked where he was and realizing his intent told my father to go get him. “Bob, nothing is open, come home.”

He tried to join the next day along with millions of other young men. They gave him a number and told him to come back in a month. He did and served 44 months in combat zones in the Southwest Pacific. Whenever I hear about places like New Guinea, Buna or Moratai I think of my uncle. He was rotated home and walked into his house unannounced. My grandmother almost fainted.

Their older brother Drew joined the Army and served overseas almost as long. He interrogated enemy prisoners in North Africa, Sicily (their father’s birthplace) and up the boot of Italy.

My grandmother got her youngest son, my father, a draft deferred job at Westinghouse. He told me that he soldered wires on radios. In early 1943Richard Billies Sr., 1943 tired of people whispering about him on the subway, he volunteered for the draft. Of course, he didn’t tell his mother until the letter arrived. He went to the Hotel Commodore in midtown Manhattan and was allowed to pick his service. He joined the United States Navy, a choice that he never regretted.

My father served in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on a variety of support ships: a net tender and a mine layer. The approaches to New York Harbor were a war zone. The German U-boats preyed on oil tankers every night. My dad said that you could see the burning tankers and hear the sirens of the destroyers and the destroyer escorts as they depth charged the enemy. You don’t hear much about this but the war was right off our shores.

Later, he went to the Pacific on a new ship named the USS Monitor. The Monitor was a Landing Ship Vehicle carrier that was commissioned in 1944. He joined the ship on the West Coast where he met his brother returning from the Southwest Pacific. Like many men who served in World War II he never spoke too much about the things that he had seen. I know that he saw his service as his duty as an American.

So when you remember that today is Pearl Harbor Day, remember the men and women who went off to war to defend their country and three guys from Brooklyn.

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