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Western Pa. trying to keep alive memory of Pearl Harbor attack

Jacob Tierney
| Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
The destroyer USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
The destroyer USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
In this Dec. 7, 1941, file photo, part of the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma is seen at right as the battleship USS West Virginia (center) begins to sink after sustaining heavy damage, while the USS Maryland is still afloat in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. Nearly 2,400 members of the U.S. military were killed in the Japanese attack.
In this Dec. 7, 1941, file photo, part of the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma is seen at right as the battleship USS West Virginia (center) begins to sink after sustaining heavy damage, while the USS Maryland is still afloat in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. Nearly 2,400 members of the U.S. military were killed in the Japanese attack.

Karen Kralik worries many people will treat Friday like any other day.

“The younger generation don’t have a clue as to what Pearl Harbor is all about,” the Mt. Lebanon resident said.

Her father, Joseph F. Kralik of Smithton, was an Army technical sergeant on his way to Sunday Mass the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor Navy base in Hawaii.

He grabbed a gun and started shooting at the Japanese planes.

When the attack was over, 2,403 Americans had died and 18 ships were sunk or beached.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the city’s chapter of the America First Committee was holding a rally, said Tim Neff, director of museum and education at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall. The rally — held in the memorial hall auditorium in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood — featured politicians and other speakers who opposed American involvement in World War II.

When early reports of the Japanese attacks came in, rally organizers weren’t sure what to make of them. The event went on as planned.

“They just didn’t believe it, because it was so hard to believe,” Neff said.

The reports were confirmed later that day. The organization never held another rally.

“That was the last meeting of the America Firsters, because everyone knew we were going to war,” Neff said.

The number of people who remember that day are dwindling. Joseph Kralik died in 2007. The Pearl Harbors Survivors Association dissolved in 2011, citing dwindling membership and declining health of the remaining members.

At Friday’s Pearl Harbor Day ceremony in Hawaii, 16 survivors are expected to attend. For the first time, no survivors from the USS Arizona will be in attendance, according to Hawaii news station KITV . The Arizona sank in the attack.

Frank Svitek Jr., commander of the Brackenridge American Legion, knows of only one Pearl Harbor survivor left in this area: George Pann, 96, of Harrison.

Pann will attend the Legion’s Pearl Harbor services at noon Friday at 845 E. First Ave., Brackenridge. The event is open to the public.

“We’re losing all of those survivors,” Svitek said. “He’s the only one in this whole area right now, so I think it’s pretty important to have a tribute to him.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor, which President Franklin Roosevelt famously called “a date that will live in infamy,” has become less infamous over the decades, Svitek said.

“We do Veterans Day, and we do Memorial Day, but it seems like Pearl Harbor Day is kind of fading away,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep it alive.”

Karen Kralik and her family attended the 75th anniversary ceremony in Hawaii two years ago. She saw the spot where the Arizona sank, oil from the wreck still slowly leaking to the surface after so many decades. She met survivors and heard their stories.

“They were like royalty because there are so few of them left,” she said.

Her father rarely talked about the attack.

“Now that he’s gone and I’m older, I have so many questions that I have to ask him,” she said.

The people who were at Pearl Harbor won’t be around much longer, but their stories will live on, Neff said.

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum displays a clock from the USS Oklahoma, which sank in the attack.

“We actually have a piece of Pearl Harbor history in our museum,” Neff said.

Karen Kralik said the story of Pearl Harbor is a vital reminder of American strength and a warning to be ready for the future.

“We weren’t prepared, but we survived and prevailed in spite of that,” she said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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