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Pearl Harbor veterans push lessons of war

| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

Alex Dyga is amazed by people who don't grasp the significance of today's date in American history.

The survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor joined nine others Friday in telling of the horror of the assault on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii and in keeping the lessons of Dec. 7, 1941 alive.

Dyga, of Kilbuck, said he visits local schools to show pictures of the Pearl Harbor invasion to students and sometimes has found that even though the youths are bright, they often don't comprehend what the attack by the Japanese meant to the country.

"I was surprised that four teachers at schools did not even know where Pearl Harbor was," he said. "We don't want to forget."

The 10 members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors organization told their stories and reminisced with dozens of other veterans yesterday at a luncheon at Country Meadows Retirement Community in South Fayette.

Even 61 years after the Japanese attack, the men agreed that their memories remain vivid.

"I saw the bomb that sunk the (battleship) Arizona," said Floyd Laughlin, of McDonald. "I just started shaking when I could see the Japanese pilot flying by."

He recalled that it took about an hour after the attack before the U.S. soldiers could get to their weapons.

"A supply sergeant wouldn't unlock the weapons until he received orders to do so," Laughlin said.

Laughlin, now 85, was an Army private at the time. He was stationed at Fort Kamehameha in Hawaii.

"We are recognizing the fact that a great number of World War II veterans are quickly passing away," said Glenn R. Dandoy of Country Meadows.

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 1,700 veterans of World War II die each day, Dandoy said. Veterans Administration statistics from September 2001 show there are 4.5 million World War II survivors alive in the United States.

Nelson Ferguson, of Plum, recalled that he was on a three-day pass when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

"I heard the shells from a motel room," he said. "Everybody was getting their Sunday sleep. We didn't know what was going on."

Paul Shish, also of Plum, said he heard a noise behind him after breakfast that day.

"I saw the dust behind me and realized that Japanese planes were strafing us. It was like the Fourth of July when we started shooting back," he recalled.

Dyga said he just had finished assigned duties when he saw four aircraft coming in.

"They were atop of us, and I said: 'Those are not our aircraft.' They circled Wheeler Field, and the second time around, they blasted the hangars and aircraft on the runway," Dyga said.

Inside the barracks, Dyga recalled, a radio announcer said: "Be calm. Pearl Harbor is getting bombed."

Dyga said he and his friend hid under a water trough until the strafing stopped.

Other survivors agreed that it is important to remember Pearl Harbor as a lesson to remain alert to danger, citing intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks last year.

Survivor Otto Saukel, of Baldwin, said he still would fight for his country, even today.

"If they need me, they can take me," he said.

Dyga said he is concerned that today's soldiers who go to war could suffer from exposure to chemical weapons.

"I don't want nobody to go over," he said. "We lost enough young people in Vietnam and Korea."

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