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Latrobe native savors chance to serve at Pearl Harbor

| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, 8:42 p.m.
Lt. j g. David Materkowski of Latrobe will attend observances of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred 75 years ago on Dec. 7, 1941. He is assigned to the Navy’s Pacific fleet in Hawaii.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
George Pann, 94, of Harrison is one of the last living survivors in the Alle-Kiski Valley of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago today. .

David Materkowski is far from the first member of his family to serve in the military, but he is the first to command other sailors on a nuclear submarine.

Lt. j.g. Materkowski, 28, a 2007 graduate of Greater Latrobe Senior High School, serves aboard the USS Santa Fe, based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where officials Wednesday will host the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, air raid that triggered the nation's entry into World War II. The special commemoration is the highlight of 12 days of events that continue through Sunday.

Materkowski considers Wednesday's observance “kind of like a second Memorial Day or Veterans Day,” a chance to “give thanks for the people who had to make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and the American way of life.”

Materkowski wasn't sure his duties would allow him to attend any commemorative events. Since joining the Pacific Fleet Headquarters in February for a 36-month tour, the lieutenant junior grade has visited the memorial to the USS Arizona. Japanese bombers sank the battleship, killing 1,177 sailors and Marines on board — nearly half of all who died in the Pearl Harbor attack.

“It's always on your mind when you're stationed out here,” Materkowski said. “It ties into the history of where we came from, and we're the guys leading the charge now.

“It's the tragedy of that day, but then going forward, all the success we had actually waging the war. It ended bittersweet because we had to drop atomic bombs on Japan to get them to surrender.”

Now, 75 years later, Materkowski hopes a deployment on the Santa Fe will provide him the opportunity to visit Japan.

“My sense of curiosity and wanderlust just sort of draws me there,” he said.

While studying aerospace engineering and earning bachelor's and master's degrees at Penn State, Materkowski advanced to the fourth beginners level in the Japanese martial art of aikido.

“I have an appreciation for the art,” he said. “It's very smooth and flowing. It almost looks like magic, but you just get (an opponent) off balance.”

Materkowski joined the Navy in September 2013, attending officer candidate school and completing crash courses on operating a submarine's nuclear power plant as well as the underlying physics and engineering.

He has followed the example of service set by his grandfathers, both World War II veterans, and two uncles in the ranks in the Vietnam era — all in the Army.

“Of course, I have to be different,” he said. Reasoning he had a slim chance to explore space as an astronaut, he said, “Being underwater for months at a time is probably the next closest thing.”

Jim Materkowski of Unity said his son's self-discipline, experience as an Eagle Scout and ability to focus on a task serve him well in the Navy.

On his smaller attack sub, Materkowski said, “You become a jack-of-all-trades. You learn how all the systems on the sub work — how to drive it and how to surface and dive.

“I'm qualified to run the nuclear reactor by myself and assist my chief in running the electrical division,” making sure power is available for all systems, including the lights, the galley and sonar.

“In the officer mindset, you have to multitask five or six tasks at one time,” he said. “It's a bit of a challenge, but I'm getting better.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622.

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