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December 09. 2012 9:04PM

Manchester veterans hold annual Pearl Harbor ceremony

MANCHESTER - Randy Browning's eyes narrow a bit repeating the words of his father, who witnessed and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.

From high above the water, 1st Lt. Robert Browning, the day officer of the U.S. Army 16th Coast Artillery at Fort DeRussy on the island of Oahu, watched the Japanese planes strafe the American warships tied to their berths as sailors scrambled to engage and repel the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

"He never spoke much about it," the son said, "but when he did, he told me to repeat the tale so that we never forget and as a nation that we stay vigilant and ever on guard against such a thing again."

The senior Browning died in 1987; he retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Son Randy Browning, who served 24 years in the Army before retiring in 2005 and in the first Gulf War, led Sunday's short, poignant noontime ceremony at Arms Park along the Merrimack River.

Browning and other veterans in attendance feels its important to not have the memory of the attack lapse into history and personal memory banks.

"I do it to remember my dad, but the other veterans who served and sacrificed when the nation was at war," Browning recalled. "When they went to war, they and the nation sacrificed. People went without things like sugar and nylons and other things like that. That's what they did in that generation. I can't see anyone today going without, say, a cellphone, the Internet or TV."

Along a wall of the park, U.S. Navy veteran Neil Valentino, who served from 1968 to 1970 on the destroyer escort USS Talbot (DD 4) and three years in the reserves, displayed framed front-pages of the Dec. 8, 1941, Manchester Union, with its huge WAR headline, and the New York Herald Tribune as well as a Dec. 26, Manchester Leader that featured pictures of three city residents who died during the attack.

Adorning Valentino's newspaper exhibit was a military flag from 1918 used at a relative's funeral and a World War II bugle used by an uncle. "They're symbolic, but they're relevant, too," he said. A framed picture of the USS Arizona (BB 39) and the Pearl Harbor Memorial as well as the USS Utah (BB 31) were also exhibited.

The Leader said Seaman Joseph Rosmus, 23, died on the battleship USS Arizona but his parents were not notified until Dec. 21. Pvt. Joseph Jedrysk, 24, and Seaman David Lloyd Crossett, 23, were also lost that day. Crossett was lost during an attack on the USS Utah on battleship row, Valentino noted. The paper listed that his parents weren't notified until Dec. 16. The Leader went to mention that Pvt. Maurice St. Germain had died during battle as well.

Valentino wished more school groups were involved to bring the lessons back to their classes and keep the history alive and relevant.

"This is the real history that needs to be taught in schools," he said. "They don't teach this stuff in schools, and it's important. We can't forget and should never forget. We've just got to keep the memories and the history of this event fresh and that it never gets lost."

Members of Sweeney Post 2 fired a 21-gun salute across the Merrimack River. The West High Naval Junior ROTC provided a color guard.

Travis Gendron, who led the West High unit, said the remembrance was important. "We honor the stories of the survivors who went under attack and still fought to keep our homes safe and free," he said.

Gendron, a senior from Hooksett, will pursue a future in criminal justice and hopes to join the Army National Guard and the military police.

Alan Heidenreich reinforced the importance of the historical event. "I remember being in school, and I was 10 at the time, and the principal came into the classroom saying we were under attack. They say you'll never forget where you are when big events take place and it's true.

"We've had many New Hampshire natives, along with others, who made the ultimate sacrifice, and we should never forget that. That's why this ceremony is so important to me and others," he said.

Browning, who looked around at the brightening sky and pulled his collar against a chill wind, tried to put the ceremony into proper perspective. "I think most people now think of the 9/11 attack, naturally, on our soil in New York City, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, of course, at the time.

"Prior to that, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor that was on U.S. soil and pulled us into World War II. We just can't forget that sacrificed so many people made that day and to let us hold this event today. There should be more people here, more groups and more media coverage of it. I guess it just wasn't important enough . but we've got to stay vigilant. That's the lesson we've learned."

gmiles@unionleader.com


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