Seventy-one years ago today, the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the nation. The act of aggression against the United States was followed up by a declaration of war the next day, which officially brought the country into World War II.
We asked local residents to tell us about the brave men and women in their lives who served in World War II and the stories and pictures we got were so amazing, we had to share.
So here are the incredible stories of just a couple heroes from "the greatest generation."
Francis Gardner sends his paycheck home since he doesn't think he'll survive the war
Heidi Barley's grandfather, Francis (Frank) M. Gardner of Chicago, Illinois was still a teenager when the bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbor. He immediately signed up to defend the United States. He served in the Army Air Corp, servicing the electrical systems in the aircraft and in communications, signal corps.
He was stationed in the South Pacific, spending many months on the island of Tonga.
"Much of the time was spent in fox-holes or in a hammock over the hole, turning over and falling in as the enemy aircraft approached. During his service, he dutifully sent nearly his entire paycheck back home to his mother to help assist with his younger brothers and sisters. He didn’t think he would live through the ordeal. Sadly many of his comrades never returned from WWII," wrote his daughter, Janet DeVries.
"When he finally returned to the United States, prematurely grey-haired, malnourished and gaunt, he drank an entire gallon of milk in one sitting. He lost most of his teeth due to limited hygiene, and wore dentures the rest of his life.
His mother saved the money he sent her. She returned the money to him as a wedding present, which he used as a hefty down payment on his first house.
All his life he disliked camping, airplanes and fireworks. He had slept on the ground far too long, had seen too many enemy aircraft, and the sound of fireworks triggered haunting memories of the deadly bombings."
Paratrooper William Hough shot but evades capture
Carolyn Hennecy of Lakeland shares the story of William J. "Bill" Hough, grandfather to her children. He was a Screamin' Eagles paratrooper who was shot while parachuting in the middle of the night over Normandy, but he evaded capture. He received both the "gold wings" Parachutist Insignia and the Purple Heart for those wounded during service."Thank you to the greatest generation," she wrote.
Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg dies during heroic rescue
Selina Gonzales Marquand wrote to us about her great uncle Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg who lost his life during rescue operations at Pearl Harbor on Feb. 17, 1945. "Disregarding all personal danger, he rescued one diver who had been trapped in a cave-in of steel wreckage while tunneling under a sunken LST. After this rescue, Hammerberg went even farther under the buried hulk and, while rescuing a second diver, was pinned down by another cave-in and perished. Boatswain's Mate Hammerberg posthumously received the Medal of Honor."
Wyman C. Lawson survives bombing of the Shaw
Wyman C. "Larry" Lawson was a Navy Man, a Pearl harbor survivor and grandfather of Kisha Weil Hartman. "I always get emotional when I think of Granddaddy that day. His Destroyer (the Shaw) was on floating dry dock. He had three broken ribs from a boxing tournament. And it was a Sunday morning. Imagine being awakened so abruptly to such chaos! He was wearing only his underwear as he used his issued rifle to shoot at planes as they went by. A Japanese plane dive bombed his ship, igniting the arsenal (just like the Arizona) and the ship blew up. With my granddaddy on it! He swam 40 yds under water engulfed in flames, still clutching his gun. When he crawled on to shore there was a Japanese plane there, the pilot already dead. But Granddaddy fired everything he had left into that plane. My mom was born in '46. I wouldn't be alive today if my granddaddy hadn't survived."
Leonard Knutson, Lawrence Knutson and Harold Pesola have incredible stories
Anita J. Williams-Pesola has three incredible stories to share. One uncle, Leonard Knutson, was in Germany and became a POW in a concentration camp that was liberated by Russians. Another uncle, Lawrence Knutson, was in the Pacific on an aircraft carrier that was besieged by Kamikazi pilots. Her late father-in-law, Harold Pesola, was in the Battle of the Bulge. "He was actually a decorated hero (no one knew until he died and we found the paperwork afterward---he never talked about it): he held off an entire contingent of German soldiers while the rest of his unit bugged out."
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