Ceremony commemorates 72nd anniversary of attack
Dozens of people, including a few hardy World War II veterans, headed downtown for the USS Kidd Memorial & Museum on Saturday to pay homage to the men and women who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“Having served in the military, it’s my duty to observe this particular day because that’s what we all went to war for, because of Pearl Harbor,” William Rabalais, 87, of Plaquemine said after attending the Remembrance Day Ceremony in downtown Baton Rouge. “That’s why to me it’s important and it always will be.”
Rabalais, who joined the U.S. Navy about three years after the attack, went to Pearl Harbor in 1945. He worked on the USS Kidd while stationed aboard the repair ship the USS Blackhawk.
He was one of only a handful of World War II veterans attending Saturday’s annual ceremony. Usually held on the deck of the USS Kidd, it was moved inside the museum Saturday because of the cold weather.
It marked the 30th consecutive year that Louisianians gathered at the USS Kidd to honor the 45 Louisiana service members who were among the more than 2,400 Americans, including 49 civilians, killed in the attack.
“As we commemorate the 72nd anniversary of what President Franklin Roosevelt called the date that will live in infamy, we also remember our ship’s namesake, Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd Sr., and the 45 Louisiana natives who lost their lives on that fateful day,” Jerry Pugh, of the Fleet Reserve Association, told those in attendance Saturday.
Maury Drummond, longtime executive director of the USS Kidd Memorial & Museum, was unable to attend because of health issues, said his assistant , Alex Juan.
The Japanese attacked on Pearl Harbor in the wee hours on Dec. 7, 1941, an attack that brought the United States into World War II.
The ceremony began at 11:55 a.m. Central Standard Time, the exact time the attack occurred for people in Baton Rouge in 1941.
Four U.S. Navy battleships, including the Arizona, were sunk and four more damaged along with three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and a minelayer; 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed.
Twenty-six of the 45 Louisianians died on the Arizona. Also killed was the USS Kidd’s namesake when a 1,500-pound bomb exploded in the forward magazine.
Among the more than 50 people who attended the ceremony were Sean Mirabeau, 38, and his four children, ages 7, 11, and 14-year-old twins.
“I wanted them to learn more about Pearl Harbor,” he said. “I also have a brother that’s in the military, I have family members that’s in the military, so it’s to let them learn why they do what they do.”
Navy veteran Frank Masanz, 91, attended the event as he does every year.
He was one of five brothers to serve in World War II. All five survived the war, but he is the only one still living today. He said he attends the annual ceremony to pay tribute, not only to his brothers, but those he served with in his 30-year career in the U.S. Navy.
“Memories are hard to forget,” Masanz said.
After Pugh gave the opening remarks, Tim Nessmith, ship supervisor and safety officer for the USS Kidd, recited the list of names of the fallen as Pugh struck a small, gold bell twice for each name in a traditional two-bell ceremony.
Also during the ceremony, members of the U.S. Coast Guard honored 17 of the service members who died on Dec. 7, 1968, when the Coast Guard Cutter White Alder collided with a Taiwanese cargo ship on the Mississippi River, near White Castle in Iberville Parish. Three people survived.
Other ceremony highlights included Bob Courtney reading the poem titled “Did you know me then,” Kent Howard playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and World War II veteran John Wilbert playing taps as he’s done for 75 years.
“Since I was a little boy, I’ve always been touched by service men, service women serving their country and I hoped to have done something and I did in World War II,” Wilbert said.
Wilbert served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946 and worked mainly in hospitals.
He said he is moved by the people who commemorate the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor each year at the USS Kidd.
“I’m honored,” Wilbert said.