‘He saw terrible things’: Pearl Harbor survivors’ kin keep their memories alive

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – It’s been 80 years since that Day of Infamy. More and more, Pearl Harbor seems to fade a little more from our collective living memory.

That’s why events like the one Tuesday at Union Cemetery almost take on an urgency. 

There were no hints of politics or partisanship, no historical analysis – only a respectful, somber tone of remembrance and honor – at the historic southeast Bakersfield cemetery, where about 100 people braved a chilly late-autumn wind to commemorate that day, Dec. 7, 1941, exactly 80 years to the minute after the surprise attack on the country’s westernmost Pacific island military outpost. 

At 9:55 a.m. – 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time – hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base at Pearl Harbor, where they destroyed or damaged nearly 20 U-S naval vessels, including eight battleships, and more than 300 airplanes. Some 2,400 Americans – military and civilian – died in the attack.

Sandra Fuller’s father, Marine Corps Private Russell McCurdy, was serving aboard the USS Arizona as an orderly to Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd. He had just come off watch and was washing up to go on liberty.

“He was gonna get off the ship and then the planes started (flying overhead),” she said. “And he went right back up to the crow’s nest. He said it was like them being dice in a cup. They were just bouncing all over. He did have to climb down and jump in the water.  And everything was on fire. And he saw terrible things.”

Admiral Kidd stayed up in the crow’s nest and died that day.

Stuart Seiden’s father, Hy Seiden, conducted the annual Pearl Harbor Memorial at Union Cemetery for more than 20 years. After the Japanese attack that day in 1941 he manned anti-aircraft guns on the northshore of Oahu for a month.

“He figured that when he got leave he’d go back to Honolulu and visit his commanding officer,” Stuart Seiden told the audience. “And when he walked in the door there, his commanding officer says, ‘Where the hell have you been?’ And he says, ‘You get on the phone right now and you call your mother and let her know that you’re OK.’ Because they had said he was missing in action.”

It was, no doubt, an emotional moment.

They come every year, here and across the nation, to remember those we lost in battle that day, as well as those who escaped only to live with the dark memories. The burden of Pearl Harbor was heavy for all who served there.

“They weren’t necessarily special people,” Stuart Seiden said. “But they were.”

Only about 75 Pearl Harbor survivors remain today. But their children and grandchildren are still here, and they’re not forgetting. Their message to the rest of us – don’t forget either.

“Even now, since he passed, I still like to go,” said Fuller, “because it kind of keeps him alive in my heart.”

One day Pearl Harbor will seem like Gettysburg or some other famous battle in American history. But for now we still have people who remember it, and their families, and they are not going to let us forget.

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