It was 78 years ago — Dec. 7, 1941 — when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, killing nearly 2,500 Americans and wounding 1,000 others.
The attack precipitated the entry of the United States into World War II and, as years pass, those associated with the Zephyrhills Museum of Military History believe it’s even more critical to share and preserve the stories of the fateful day.
“We can’t let people forget about it,” longtime museum volunteer Dan Evans said. “It’s just too important what happened in our own history, what happened in the world’s history.
“War is a horrible thing — a lot of people die. But, you want people to remember it because you don’t want that to happen anymore.”
To help keep the memory alive, every year since 2012, the museum has organized a Pearl Harbor Commemoration Day, at 39444 South Ave.
The Dec. 7 daylong event featured World War II men and women reenactors, as well as more than a dozen displays of World War II military vehicles and aircraft, including half-tracks and C-47B aircraft, all brought in by dedicated military collectors.
The biggest attraction, however, was the appearance of two Pearl Harbor veteran survivors — 98-year-old Ed Socha and 96-year-old Charles McClelland.
Socha was on the USS Maryland that was struck by two armor-piercing bombs, and McClelland on the USS Helena when it was hit by torpedo and bomb fragments.
Socha, who lives in Sun City, went on to serve in the military for 30 years, working his way up to Navy commander. McClelland, who lives in Zephyrhills, went on to serve on the USS Houston and the USS Missouri battleship. After the war, he worked 30 years as a draftsman for Michigan Consolidated gas utilities.
The two men, who now live life from a wheelchair, spent hours meeting with and taking pictures with attendees and guests.
Museum president Cliff Moffett said there were as many as 10 Pearl Harbor survivors in the event’s early years, but most of them passed on over the years. In addition to Socha and McClelland, the event drew a few other World War II veterans, and several Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
Moffett underscored the significance of the commemoration: “These guy’s stories have to be told and have to be remembered. Everybody talks about what these guys did for the United States, but what would this world have been without these guys from World War II? We have no idea what this world would’ve been like.”
It was Zephyrhills resident Cathy Deaton’s first time attending the museum’s Pearl Harbor ceremony.
For her, it was a unique opportunity to show her appreciation and gratitude to those who served — especially back in World War II.
“It’s near and dear to my heart because everybody in my family has served, in some form or fashion,” said Deaton, also a volunteer for East Pasco Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 705.
“Every chance I get, I try to talk to them and personally tell them, ‘Thank you,’” she said.
The commemoration likewise had special meaning to Zephyrhills resident Rod Rehrig, of Marine Corps League Sgt. Maj Michael S. Curtin Detachment #1124.
Rehrig said he met and chatted with fellow marines from Lakeland, Hudson and Mulberry at the event. He also was in awe of the hundreds of people and families who showed up throughout the day. “It’s heartwarming seeing all these people. I think it’s just great, they came from all over for this thing,” he said.
The building that now houses the Zephyrhills military museum originally was an Army barracks in the 1940s. It’s the site of where hundreds of Army fighter pilots came to Zephyrhills to hone their skills at the Zephyrhills Army Airfield before going to war. The now city-owned museum holds artifacts that convey treasured memories of World War II veterans who lived and trained in Zephyrhills, and others who served in other wars.
Published December 11, 2019