Thursday, December 07, 2006

Through The Eyes Of A Pearl Harbor Survivor

John Weinberger, a West Bend resident who survived the Dec. 7, 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor, right, talks to Slinger High School Band Director Dave Hanke and students about his experiences. Weinberger traveled with the marching band in November when they performed in the Waikiki Holiday Parade.


SLINGER - On the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a new generation is seeing it as though for the first time.

Slinger High School Marching Band members were able to experience the sights and sounds of Pearl Harbor through the eyes of a survivor, when they traveled to Hawaii with John Weinberger. The band was invited to perform in the Waikiki Holiday Parade on Thanksgiving Day, and also performed at the USS Missouri and attended memorials.

"I understand it more now. It’s a lot more realistic to me now," said senior Becky Faber, who said the most moving moment for her was watching Weinberger look at the memorial wall.

"You can talk about it in school, and it’s kind of like just something that happened in the past. Being there, it’s hits you how big it was," said sophomore Andy Vetrone.

"It was touching to see what actually happened, and to see the wall in Pearl Harbor with all the names on it," said senior Sam Duehr. "I have more respect now for all the people that fought there and for those who died over there."

Weinberger shared his experiences that day with students to keep the memory alive.

"It’s important (this generation) sees it first hand. Their parents should have seen it, now they know more than their parents," Weinberger said. "It’s all political, same as today. History keeps repeating and repeating itself."

"For us, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor is always going to be different," Band Director Dave Hanke said. "When we think of it now, we’ll be thinking of John. It’s not always where you go or what you do, but who you’re with."

Seeing Pearl Harbor through Weinberger’s eyes, Hanke said, completely changed the way he viewed that day in history.

"I went (to Pearl Harbor) last year and I thought it was a moving experience, but when we went with John this year, now it’s personal," Hanke said. "For our kids, what a great experience - watching John lay a wreath at the (USS Arizona) memorial, and knowing that he was 50 yards away when it was hit and you could see that he remembers exactly what happened - that was heart-wrenching. It was a life-altering experience. It makes us all different people."

Today, 65 years ago

"At this time today, I was working my tail off," Weinberger said.

"I had just turned 18 in June, and I was on the USS Whitney," Weinberger said. "It was the first time I had to handle a dead person - at 18 years old, whew, you think about that.

"Two of my buddies were on the Arizona. I went through training with them and wanted to get on the same ship they did. It’s a good thing I didn’t."

At the beginning of the attack, Weinberger said they thought it was just a training exercise. It wasn’t long, however, when it became apparent that Japan was attacking the United States.

"I heard something that sounded like rain, but it was the shrapnel, and the planes got so close with the torpedos, you could see the pilot’s face. The planes were 15 to 20 feet off the water when they dropped the torpedos. One just missed us. We were mad, I tell you. It just happened, just like that," Weinberger said as he snapped his fingers.

"I was 50 yards away from the Arizona when it was struck, and you swore the ship came right out of the water. You know when you go swimming in your clothes, and they stick to your body? That’s what the concussion felt like," he said.

"It was chaos all the way through, but we had so much darn training, that you automatically went through the motions," he said.

Once the attack was over, the chaos continued.

"The first ship to roll over was the Oklahoma," Weinberger said. "On the West Virginia, (those trapped) kept track of how long they were in there. They made marks until the 21st of December. That’s a hell of a way to die."

While Weinberger remembers the events of 65 years ago today, he notes how important it is for others to remember as well.

"We have to keep America strong and have a good military, and good civilians too," he said.

This story appeared in the West Bend Daily News on December 7, 2006.

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