Pearl Harbor veterans gather to dedicate a span of memory

Severn River bridge ceremony honors those killed in attack

December 07, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

On a December morning in 1941, Eugene H. "Dutch" Albert was standing in formation on the deck of the USS Pennsylvania when a mass of airplanes descended on the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

"Where did the Army get all of those airplanes?" Albert recalled a fellow Navy man remarking.

Then the bombs began dropping. Soon the crew realized they were under attack by the Japanese, an event that would catapult the United States into World War II.

Sixty-five years after then-1st Class Petty Officer Albert lived through that "day of infamy," carrying off the wounded and dead from the battleship, he will attend an event near Annapolis dedicating the U.S. 50 bridge at the Severn River as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge.

"It will be one of the greatest things in my life, really," the 88-year-old Temple Hills resident said of the event today at the Maryland World War II Memorial, where a Pearl Harbor monument lies. "I'm one of those people who hope that Pearl Harbor will never be forgotten."

The dedication culminates a decade-long effort by Maryland's branch of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association to dedicate a road or bridge in the state in honor of the more than 2,400 U.S. servicemen and civilians who were killed Dec. 7, 1941. Five U.S. battleships were sunk or seriously damaged, and nearly 200 aircraft were destroyed.

The attack propelled the United States into a worldwide conflict against Japan and its Axis allies, including Germany. The event galvanized the nation as no other event until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association searched across Maryland to find a suitable road or bridge that had not already been dedicated.

When a Pearl Harbor monument was placed four years at the state's World War II Memorial at Route 450 overlooking the Naval Academy Bridge, activists narrowed their search to Anne Arundel County. They soon discovered that the U.S. 50 bridge that crosses the Severn, commonly referred to as the Severn River Bridge, had not been dedicated. Completed in 1994, the bridge stands within a mile of the military academy.

"It's something we have been striving for," said Clarence J.M. Davis, president of the Maryland chapter for the Pearl Harbor association. "Sometimes, we were almost willing to give up."

Nearly 100 veterans who witnessed the Pearl Harbor attacks are believed to be living in Maryland, Davis said. He served as a sailor aboard the USS Medusa, a repair ship, when the Japanese fighters launched their initial attack at 7:55 a.m.

"We're just sorry that some of the members in the last few years couldn't make it," said Davis, 83, of Charlotte Hall.

He spoke of the likes of Gerald A. Glaubitz, the mayor of Morningside for 43 years, who died in April 2005. Glaubitz was stationed aboard the USS San Francisco when the Japanese struck.

Veterans such as Glaubitz "tried all this time in Maryland to keep Pearl Harbor in the minds of people," Davis said.

Today's events will start at noon at the World War II Memorial, an amphitheater-like monument bearing the names of the 6,454 Marylanders who died in World War II.

State Sen. John C. Astle, an Annapolis Democrat and Vietnam veteran who has been credited with helping the veterans group in its efforts, will deliver the keynote speech. At 12:55 p.m. - five hours ahead of Hawaii time - several survivors of the attack will lay a wreath at the memorial.

"We hope to have 10 or 12" Pearl Harbor survivors at the event, Davis said. "I hope."

After the ceremony, State Highway Administration officials will uncover signs at each end of the expanse that read: "Dedicated as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge."

David Buck, an SHA spokesman, said the bridge is not being renamed, only dedicated. Although it's commonly referred to as the Severn River Bridge, Buck said, "People just call it that."

The State Roads Commission, which comes under the purview of the state Department of Transportation, approved the dedication of the bridge, Buck said.

Davis said he learned of the state decision last month.

An ex-Marine, Astle said he feels a sense of satisfaction in helping the survivors.

"There's a lot of rivalry between the Navy and the Marine Corps, but we really are brothers of the same family," said Astle, who was shot down twice while serving as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War and was awarded two Purple Hearts. "It really is an honor to acknowledge the efforts and sacrifice that these guys made."

Doing research for his speech, Astle found that 15 Medals of Honor, the country's highest decoration for valor, were awarded to those who served that day at Pearl Harbor.

Said Astle: "Clearly, the actions of those Americans were exemplary."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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