Tora!Tora!Tora! attack hits home for Westmoreland airshow patron
As Russell Miller of Connellsville joined thousands of others Saturday in watching World War II training planes modified to look like Japanese planes simulate — but in the skies above the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe — the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, he wondered what it was like to be there that fateful day.
For Miller, watching the Tora! Tora! Tora! aerial show at the Shop ’n Save Westmoreland County Airshow, hit very close to home.
“I wonder what he (Miller’s father) would have thought” of the simulated attack played out over the rolling hills of Westmoreland County.
That’s because his late father was a radioman aboard a destroyer at Pearl Harbor the day the Japanese launched the surprise attack, destroying or damaging almost 20 U.S. ships and killing more than 2,400 Americans. The attack that plunged the United States into a war already waging in Europe and Asia.
The Tora! Tora! Tora! performance by eight planes of the Commemorative Air Force of Morton, Ill., included a pyrotechnic display of explosions meant to mimic the bombing by Japanese planes. It was accompanied by a narration explaining the attack.
The Japanese word Tora translates to tiger in English. In the attack on Pearl Harbor, the word was used by Japanese fighters as a code to signify that the attack had been a surprise, according to the website Japan Today.
Going to the popular airshow and seeing the planes and helicopters, like the Black Hawk helicopter parked along the airport’s tarmac, “brings back a lot of memories,” the 72-year-old Miller said.
Miller was in the Marine Corps from 1966 to 1970, serving “all over Vietnam” and during the massive Tet Offensive that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong allies launched in January 1968.
“I used to fly in a Huey helicopter. I was a door gunner,” Miller said.
The Pennsylvania National Guard’s Black Hawk helicopter, based at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, drew a considerable crowd. Airshow patrons were able to climb into the helicopter and be strapped into seats and go into the cockpit.
Watching over the crowd at the Black Hawk helicopter was Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Stephen Pernelli of Latrobe.
“It’s a great workhorse. It’s the Army’s workhorse,” said Pernelli, a Black Hawk pilot.
To the general public, the Black Hawk helicopter gained notoriety in October 1993, when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu, Somalia. Eighteen Americans were killed in the ensuing battle and rescue attempt.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .