GREENFIELD — They stood tall and raised their hands in salute as the bugle sounded. Its music echoed loud on a silent afternoon, calling attention to their little gathering and forcing passersby to pause alongside them.
As communities across the nation came together to remember the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor — when nearly 360 Japanese warplanes dropped bombs on a fleet of American battleships stationed in Hawaii, killing and injuring more than 3,000 people — local veterans, too, paid their respects to a generation that is often called the country’s greatest.
Wednesday, a crowd of veterans and their families gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2693 in Greenfield to remember the events of that fateful day 75 years ago. Their event started with raising the flag outside the hall on Apple Street, and drivers passing the facility stopped their cars to watch.
Among the attendants were two Navy veterans who could recall the events of Dec. 7, 1941 first hand: Greenfield natives Lester Hartley, a 94-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, and Ray Crickmore, a 91-year-old World War II veteran who is still active in local veterans’ affairs.
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Hartley was aboard a battleship docked in Pearl Harbor on the morning the Japanese attacked. Crickmore was home in Indiana but joined the military as soon as he was able; he was aboard a battleship in the China Sea when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan to end the war.
Wednesday, they shook hands and posed for pictures, answered questions about their time at sea and listened intently as speakers discussed the war’s impact.
They were the oldest faces in a crowd full of residents eager to recall the country’s history and pay tribute to the thousands who died at Pearl Harbor, the thousands more who perished in the war that followed and the countless others who joined and served in the military, inspired by their bravery.
The youngest faces, however, were 11-year-old Ian and 10-year-old Diego Valdes.
Their mother, Stacy Valdes of Greenfield, home schools the boys and said she often looks for opportunities to bring their history lessons to life.
Attending memorial celebrations like Wednesday’s are the perfect way to do that, said Valdes, herself an Air Force veteran.
Instead of just reading about the events of Pearl Harbor Wednesday, her boys had the opportunity to shake the hands of men who were actually there and thank them for their service.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” she said.
Pat Mobley of Brownsburg, a leader of the national 40/8 veterans’ organization, attended Wednesday’s gathering to talk about his organization’s work around the country. During his discussion, he read a transcript of Roosevelt’s 1941 request to Congress to declare the country at war with Japan.
As he repeated Roosevelt’s famous words — “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy …” — Mobley paused, suddenly overcome with emotion as he thought about the power the president’s speech had carried, he said.
This day and the ones that followed it left a dark mark on world history, Mobley said. As the nation mourned the thousands of lives lost at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt’s words rallied the Americans who heard them and inspired the greatest military, economic and industrial movement the country had every seen, Mobley said.
It was an honor to be given the chance to share Roosevelt’s sentiment, Mobley told the group.
Walt Baran, the commander of Greenfield’s VFW post, said this year’s gathering was the first time in recent memory that the post had hosted an event in honor of Pearl Harbor. Because this year was such a notable anniversary — most likely the last World War II survivors will live to see — Baran thought it was important to organize an event to remember the day, he said.
After all, days like these, days when the community pauses to remember the country’s most difficult times, are what inspired him to serve.
“Without days like this, I might not be here,” he said, motioning around the VFW post he now leads. “Because they took care of us, I decided to join; then I took care of the next generation. And hopefully it continues that way forever.”