Survivors share common bond

December 07, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

It's been a year since El Centro resident Ken Marini last appeared in a story about Imperial Valley residents who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

It's been a year since Marini last asked people to fly flags to show support for all those who have served or are serving their country.

It's been a year in which much has changed in the world — a year in which the United States came under attack from terrorists.

Now, as Marini drives around the community, he sees flags everywhere and is filled with pride.

But he is sad because of the events that have caused so many flags to fly — events that remind him of a time when a quiet December morning erupted in an attack that launched this country into World War II.


Marini and fellow Pearl Harbor survivor Frank Garcia of Brawley met with a reporter recently at the war memorial at Pioneers' Museum.

Sitting under a plaque that lists the names of all those from the Valley who survived the Pearl Harbor attack — most of whom have since died — Marini's and Garcia's thoughts turned to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Marini, who at 86 is one of the oldest Pearl Harbor survivors in the Valley, is president of the local chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

He said the group's motto is to never forget Dec. 7, 1941, 60 years ago today.

"It's important that people remember," he said. "Our reason is to keep the Valley alert by remembering our motto so nothing like this could ever happen again, but it did happen again.

"It didn't happen here, but it could have," Marini said.

Both Marini and Garcia said there is a key difference between the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center.

While both were surprise attacks, the Japanese did not target civilians. They chose military targets. The terrorists went after civilians.

"We had more of a chance than those people in those buildings did," Marini said, adding, "Sept. 11 was a lot worse for the way it came out. It makes me feel so sorry for those folks. They didn't have a chance to fight for their lives."

Garcia, 79, a member of the Pearl Harbor association, added, "They were innocent people. At least at Pearl Harbor they left the civilians alone."

Both said it's important that people remember Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001.

They also said if they could they would take part in the effort to bring Osama bin Ladin to justice.

"I'd like to help find this guy," Marini said.

The two old soldiers who share a common bond forged 60 years ago know realistically that their soldiering has long since passed. They also know each year there are fewer Pearl Harbor survivors to tell the stories.

In the last year, two local survivors — Daniel McCarthy and Robert Pierce — died within a few months of each other.

Marini and Garcia do not dwell on that fact and do not let it bring them down — they say they are going to share their stories as long as they can.

Both remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor as if it happened yesterday.

Marini was stationed a mile from Pearl Harbor and when the attack started, he was ordered to take a position on Makapuu, a mountain overlooking Pearl Harbor, to watch for parachuting Japanese forces.

From there he saw and heard it all.

"You could see debris flying everywhere. The smoke, the fires, I could see it all," he said.

He remembers the site of so many dead after the attack.

Garcia was stationed 21 miles from Pearl Harbor but was next to an airfield that was destroyed by an air attack.

"There was so much destruction; so much death — it was terrible," he said.

A total of 2,403 Americans died in the Pearl Harbor attack.

El Centro resident S.A. Kopp was on the USS Pennsylvania, dry-docked at Pearl Harbor.

The Pennsylvania was hit by a bomb and badly damaged. Eighteen men aboard were known killed, 35 severely wounded and six were missing in action. It was later learned those six had died in the attack.

"We did our job," Kopp said earlier this week. "Most of us didn't realize what we had been through. Most of us didn't realize how momentous this was for the country."

Today Kopp is in Hawaii with other Pearl Harbor survivors for a 60-year reunion. He has been back to Pearl Harbor on other occasions, the last time in 1983.

He said it's important for him to go to Hawaii to reunite with those he served with, some of whom he has not seen since the attack.

"I want to go back and I want to see some of my friends I haven't seen since Dec. 7, 1941," said Kopp. "We will probably relive what happened on Dec. 7."

Like Marini and Garcia, Kopp, also a member of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said it is important to keep telling the story of Pearl Harbor.

But the 83-year-old Kopp said every year there are fewer survivors to tell the story.

"We know one by one the Lord is calling them home," he said.

Then jokingly, he said, "The Lord is the only one who controls it, but I'd like to live to be 100."

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