The date which will live in infamy is never forgotten
“Yesterday, December the seventh, nineteen hundred and forty-one, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by military and air forces of the Empire of Japan. I regret to inform you that a great many American lives have been lost.”
The president of the United States was announcing the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. If you are old enough to remember that day, the words will haunt you forever.
I was a young lad, running around in the front yard, when my mother came to the door to tell me what had happened.
A few years later, with World War II in the history books, I found myself in uniform after a different conflict had broken out, halfway around the globe in Korea.
Dec. 7 this year will mark the 73rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor. But a couple days after that, on Dec. 9, I will mark an anniversary of sorts of my own – 60 years after my own discharge from the Army.
I was never one to celebrate such occasions, although one of my best friends, former Willoughby Mayor Bud Brichford, spent at least two weeks every year celebrating his own Army discharge.
I helped him on a couple of occasions, but that was the extent of my own involvement in such matters.
Pearl Harbor is not forgotten, however. Far from it. One of the largest remembrances in this area is the one held every Dec. 7 at Hellriegel’s Inn in Painesville Twp. They began in 1964, and I have attended a great many of them. They are held each year on Dec. 7 regardless of the day of the week on which it falls.
It is unfortunate that I will be unable to be there this year. I have a commitment to attend a holiday benefit dinner that evening for the Women’s Committee of the Fine Arts Association in Willoughby.
But my thoughts will be drifting to Hellriegel’s throughout the evening because of the many fine times I have enjoyed there and the outstanding programs that have been a magnet for veterans to attend.
For years the event was virtually limited to veterans – not just of Pearl Harbor, although there were always many survivors in the audience – who were required to wear a part of their military uniform to the dinner.
A couple of Navy veterans couldn’t fit into their pants without having a large V-shaped piece of material sewn into the rears of them.
My problem was a bit different. When I went into the service, I had a 14 1/2 inch neck. It is now two inches larger. I found a solution, however. I went to Sears, bought a khaki work shirt that looked exactly like GI issue, took it to a seamstress and had her sew my 1st Armored Division patch and my sergeant stripes on my new “Army” shirt. Presto! Nobody knew the difference.
Coming up with speakers for the remembrance is not as easy as it once was. With help from veterans such as Jack Daniels and Congressman Bill Stanton, the committee could always come up with someone well-known to deliver the keynote message.
And speaking of congressmen, the father of former Congressman Dennis Eckart, Ed Eckart, was a Pearl Harbor survivor, and he was a regular at the dinners. If I looked hard enough, I could find pictures of him with me, Harry Waterman, Rocco Scotti, Ray Dawson and some of the other regulars.
The speakers who delivered keynote messages were in a class by themselves. I well remember Otto Graham, Ted Williams, Woody Hayes, Sam Rutigliano, Bob Feller and other luminaries from the world of sports.
While they swapped war stories, vets in the room scurried about, getting autographs of the speakers on their programs.
For many years, shipmates of Bill Kochever, who owned Hellriegel’s at the time, had their own table at the dinner. As you might suspect, their numbers dwindled over the years.
The price of the event, which includes a steak dinner, appetizers and open bar, has not gone up. It is still $35.
I talked to Silvio Trifiletti, one of the restaurant’s current owners, the other night. They are still using Navy and military lingo when referring to the party. Cocktail hour is 1700 hours (5 p.m.), chow down is 1800 hours, and the program goes on from there, with a lot of great conversation, questions such as “What theater were you in,” and comments like, “I hope they never stop holding these remembrances.”
This year’s speaker is retired Col. Timothy Gorrell, director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. The public is welcome. You no longer need to wear part of a military uniform to attend.
You can make a reservation by calling 440-354-9530. If you are a veteran and can wear a part of your uniform, you are encouraged to do so. If you attend, I guarantee you will have good time, and you will not regret going.