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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Horrific day in 1941 marked U.S. entry into World War II

BY BECCY TANNER
The Wichita Eagle

When Paul Aschbrenner spoke Monday, he pleaded for Americans to remain vigilant so that those who fought and died 68 years ago at Pearl Harbor would not have done so in vain.

"Look for a suspicious link," he said. "If you see any of that, turn it into a policeman. We don't want the same thing that happened at Pearl Harbor to happen again. I don't think it should have happened. We should have been ready."

Even after 68 years, there is an urgency in Aschbrenner's voice.

He was a seaman 1st Class onboard the USS Oklahoma when it took nine torpedo blows from Japanese planes on Dec. 7, 1941.

He remembers climbing down a gun turret and slipping into the oily waters of the harbor to swim to safety.

"It seems like eternity," Aschbrenner told an audience of about 50 who gathered for an observance Monday at VFW Post 3115 on West Douglas. "Many days I couldn't talk about it."

The audience listened as Aschbrenner and three other Pearl Harbor survivors quietly spoke about their experiences.

Now in their 80s and 90s, they vividly remember the Sunday morning when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. When it was over, 1,178 men were wounded, 2,403 were dead or dying.

As the survivors age, that day is beginning to recede into history.

Jim Denison, a Vietnam veteran who helped organize one of the Pearl Harbor events this year, spoke about why the Japanese attack should be remembered.

He referenced a jar of fuel oil that sat on a table along with Pearl Harbor posters and World War II memorabilia.

For Denison, the jar was the most precious item on the table. It came from the USS Arizona, which sank in the harbor, killing 1,177 men.

"If you know any history at all about the USS Arizona, you know that almost a quart of fuel oil a day still seeps from the wreck to the surface," Denison said. "To one person this may not be worth 24 cents. To me, it's priceless. They call it the tears of the USS Arizona."

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btannerwichitaeagle.com.

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