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Brackenridge Pearl Harbor service honors those who endured day of 'infamy'

Matthew Medsger
| Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 4:27 p.m.
George Pann, 95, of Harrison stops to salute the flag after a Pearl Harbor Day program at Brackenridge American Legion Post 226 on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. Pann is thought to be the last living Pearl Harbor survivor in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
George Pann, 95, of Harrison stops to salute the flag after a Pearl Harbor Day program at Brackenridge American Legion Post 226 on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. Pann is thought to be the last living Pearl Harbor survivor in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Betsy Bianco of Brackenridge reads a commemorative issue of the Valley News Dispatch from Dec. 7, 1991, 50 years after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Her father, a Pearl Harbor survivor, saved the paper but never told her about what he did that day. Photo taken Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
Betsy Bianco of Brackenridge reads a commemorative issue of the Valley News Dispatch from Dec. 7, 1991, 50 years after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Her father, a Pearl Harbor survivor, saved the paper but never told her about what he did that day. Photo taken Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.

Just past 8:45 in the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Brackenridge resident Betsy Bianco's father helped shoot down a Japanese plane over Pearl Harbor.

Seaman 1st Class J.W. McCartney was cited by his commander in a message sent to then-Pacific Fleet Commander-in-Chief Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, for downing an enemy plane that proceeded to crash over Hickham Field in Hawaii.

Bianco joined nearly 100 veterans, family members and military supporters Thursday at American Legion Post 226 in Brackenridge to mark the 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The veterans took advantage of the event to discuss a future without conflict.

"Imagine all the good those men could have done had they lived," said Steve Hloznick, master of ceremonies and a member of the VFW Post 5758 Honor Guard.

Beginning at 7:48 a.m. Pacific Time and lasting 90 minutes, the attack on Pearl Harbor claimed the lives of more than 2,400 American sailors and civilians.

The following day, the United States declared war on Japan, effectively beginning our nation's active participation in World War II.

Bianco wouldn't find out about her father's actions until two years ago, more than 40 years after he died in 1972. Bianco's dad wasn't the kind of guy who spoke much about his service."Just the good times," Bianco said. "I knew he was at Pearl Harbor, but we never heard a word about what he was doing over there."

George Pann was the guest of honor at Thursday's event. Pann, 95, is a perhaps the last living Pearl Harbor survivor in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Pann, of Harrison, was a 19-year-old Army private then, assigned to the 55th Coast Artillery as part of Battery E on the northeast coast of Oahu.

His cousin had recommended that he join the coast artillery so he could go to the Hawaiian Islands for an undemanding assignment in an idyllic setting.

The day of the attack began normally for Pann, with breakfast. But there had been rumors of an attack coming from across the Pacific Ocean for a week.

He cited an editorial from a Hawaiian newspaper that said an attack would come days before it did.

He told the story of an officer who warned friends of the impending attack, only to be ignored.

When the attack came, Pann was sent to the north of the island.

Japanese planes returning from their bombing runs strafed his position with machine gun fire. A friend was killed.

Pann said he wasn't afraid — or, if he was, he can't remember. But the events of that day still live with him.

"I think about it from time to time," Pann said. "Especially this time of year."

After surviving Pearl Harbor, he continued serving in the Pacific Theater in the Gilbert Islands, the Philippines and Okinawa.

Pann's military career continued until June 1945, when the 82-day Battle of Okinawa ended. Japan surrendered in September.

There once were 34 Pearl Harbor survivors from the Valley. As recently as 2010, that number was down to seven.

The first Pennsylvania serviceman listed as killed in action during the attack was George G. Leslie, a 20-year-old private from Arnold.

Leslie was killed by Japanese bombers. Leslie's remains weren't returned home until 1947.

George Leslie Memorial Stadium in Arnold is named for him.

Of the 66,000 or so military personnel stationed around Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, fewer than 2,000 nationwide are thought to be living.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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