The generation of American soldiers who fought during World War II is quickly vanishing. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, only 3 percent of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive
There may not be many World War II veterans left to tell their story, but the reverberations of Dec. 7, 1941, were still felt Thursday by the people at the Pendleton Air Museum.
In honor of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the museum hosted several veterans among its collection of memorabilia from the World War II-era Pendleton Airbase.
Desert Storm veteran Mark Jaeger had brought an article about his grandfather, Cal Butler. According to Jaeger, Butler was at home in Redmond when he got the shocking call that Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbor. Already a member of the Army Air Corps, Butler acted as a flight instructor for other pilots.
After Butler returned home, Jaeger recalled staying at his grandfather’s house and excitedly looking at pictures of old planes. Butler’s love of aviation was passed on to his grandson and eventually inspired Jaeger to join the Air Force, serving from 1991 to 1997.
Jaeger said he now mostly does volunteer jobs after retiring from the Air Force
Pearl Harbor also had effects on the people who didn’t serve. A visitor to the air museum, Mary Koch was 10 years old when Japan attacked Hawaii and remembers the feeling like an invasion was imminent.
A Pilot Rock resident who grew up in Pendleton, life went on after the war started but it remained an undercurrent of everyday life. Koch recalled the blackout drills the town would undertake in case of an air attack, the terrible sweetener her family was sent as a part of the food rations, and the dinners her family would host for soldiers and their wives at the air base who couldn’t afford to eat out.
“It was a community effort,” she said.
Sean Degan served a 30-year career in the Navy from 1979 to 2009, spanning conflicts with Libya in the 1980s to the War on Terror in the 2000s.
Degan pointed to a book filled with World War II-era newspapers that had recently been donated to the air museum, calling it a “gem.” He compared Pearl Harbor to 9/11, times where the country got its “teeth kicked in” before uniting behind a common cause and fighting back.
While National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is a one-day event, Veterans of Foreign Wars Let’er Buck Post 922 and the Pendleton Arts Committee are working on a year-round tribute.
In an interview Thursday, VFW member Johnny Blagg said plans are proceeding to turn an out-of-use fountain near the corner of Highway 11 and Southeast Court Avenue into a tribute to all branches of the U.S. military — the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Blagg said the memorial won’t just be a tribute to veterans, but to all military members. The memorial will include five basalt columns in a circular formation with each column featuring a bronze emblem of a military branch. The basalt columns will be about knee-high so that everyone would be able to get a good look at the emblems up close.
Blagg said he has received permission from each branch to depict their emblem and the Pendleton Parks and Recreation Department has already removed brush and old landscaping from the fountain.
A recent appointee to the arts committee, Blagg said he isn’t sure the exact cost because the project will be done in phases. A later phase could include a sculpture or some other piece of art in the center of the circular formation, either repurposed or original.
The arts committee has already committed $10,000 toward the project. Blagg said the bronze plaques and lighting will cost about $7,500 while the basalt columns are being donated from a VFW member in Washington.
Blagg said the VFW and the city are ready to install the memorial as soon as the weather warms up in March or April.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.