Survivors recognized during West Mifflin Area ceremony
Pearl Harbor survivors Pearson Harkema and Felix Scocchera were recognized at a remembrance ceremony at West Mifflin Area High School on Friday afternoon.
The event began at 12:55 p.m., which was 7:55 a.m. in Hawaii, the same time of day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
It was 72 years ago on Saturday when more than 350 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes were launched against the U.S. naval base. The assault lasted two hours and killed more than 2,400 Americans.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it “a date which will live in infamy.”
Scocchera, a Monroeville native, joined the Army Air Corps in 1939. He was stationed at Wheeler Field near Pearl Harbor. He survived the battle and later served on Wake Island, as well as other duty stations throughout World War II.
Scocchera said he enjoyed the remembrance program, but declined to speak about his experience in Hawaii.
“It was a long time ago,” said Scocchera, 94.
Harkema, 93, a lifelong Monessen resident and 1939 Monessen High School graduate, served as a fire controlman first class on the battleship USS Oklahoma during the attack. He escaped when the stricken ship was sinking by jumping over the side into oil-soaked, flaming water. Although injured, he was rescued and brought ashore.
Harkema recovered from his wounds and served with the Navy aboard the USS Northampton, a heavy cruiser, and the battleship USS Indiana.
Harkema said the ceremony brought back memories, and did not want elaborate on his time at Pearl Harbor.
“It's best to forget it,” Harkema said. “I lost a lot of good friends. I get a little lump in my throat.”
Organizers also remembered Bernie Ordos of West Mifflin and Art Nagy of McKeesport. They were Pearl Harbor survivors who died last year.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Intrepid Post 914 Cmdr. Jake Bradich said the heroic military men and women deserve to be honored.
“Their courageous efforts and sacrifices demand gratitude and respect, as we must work to see that their patriotic service remains a constant reminder of our responsibility to foster democracy around the world,” Bradich said.
Friday marked the 22nd remembrance ceremony at the high school, sponsored by Post 914. This year it was co-sponsored by the American Merchant Marine Veterans of the Mon Valley.
Post 914 chaplain Gene Staudt delivered the invocation and benediction.
Marine Corps League Detachment 726 and West Mifflin Area High School Air Force JROTC advanced the colors under the direction of Major Scott R. Harbula and Senior Master Sgt. Otis DiCerbo.
Veterans of Foreign Wars District 29 representative Chuck McCormick led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Navy hymn. The national anthem and “Blades of Grass” were sung by the high school chorale, directed by Melissa Prutz. The high school Titan chorale performed “God Bless the USA.”
The high school wind ensemble, directed by Jeff Kesser, played a medley of service songs.
Guest speaker was state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg.
“The attack devastated America, but it did not destroy her,” Kortz said. “Some of our own folks, our very own hometown heros, were there to fight back ... We must never forget what they did there. Pearl Harbor, ladies and gentlemen, was the singular event that plunged us into World War II, a war in which 60 million people died ... The greatest generation, of which these gentlemen are part of and some people in the audience here with us today, won that conflict.”
High school trumpeters played “Taps.”
The closing ceremonies included McCormick singing “Sleep, Soldier Boy, Sleep,” and the wind ensemble playing “God Bless America.”
McKeesport Amvets Post 8 will have its Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony on Saturday at noon at McKees Point Marina, along Joe Bendel Way. A spaghetti dinner will follow at 100 Lawrence Ave., the former Bowman Club.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.