TILTON — Eighty years ago Tuesday, Japan launched a surprise attack on U.S. armed forces at Pearl Harbor.
And while the event continues to resonate with the residents of the New Hampshire Veterans Home, none was at Pearl Harbor then, and increasingly fewer residents remain who served in World War II, the conflagration which Pearl Harbor provoked the U.S. to enter.
Those facts both came up as the Veterans Home marked what then-President Franklin Roosevelt called a date “which will live in infamy …” with a “remembrance” in its Town Hall.
About 40 residents turned out for the ceremony, which because of safety measures borne of the COVID-19 pandemic, was mostly virtual for a second consecutive year.
“Even though we’re not back to normal,” there were pieces of normality this year that were “nice to see,” said Sarah Stanley, the Veteran Home’s public information officer and emcee, who added that the home has 120 residents, only 22 of whom are veterans of World War II.
During an interview before the ceremony, Stanley said the last resident of the Veterans Home who was in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 was Walter Borchert, a New York City native who lived for many years in Meredith and Belmont before moving to the home.
Aboard the destroyer USS Worden, Borchert, in several newspaper articles prior to his death at 98 on Dec. 14, 2019, recounted how he had prepared himself a large egg sandwich just as the attack began.
There may be Pearl Harbor survivors living in New Hampshire, said Stanley, and they may eventually reside at the home, but at present, the home’s connection to the attack is second-hand, through Albert Caldwell.
A Manchester native and the youngest in a blended family of 10 children, Caldwell, 96, was drafted into the U.S. Navy in 1943.
A learning disability prevented him from serving in combat, like his brother Joe, who at the time of the attack was a chief radio operator on the USS Conyngham.
The Conyngham, said the Destroyer History Foundation, “joined in splashing several planes,” on Dec. 7, 1941, “and by 1700 was underway for patrol. She continued to patrol from Pearl Harbor through December, and after a brief overhaul at Mare Island, had escort duty between the west coast and the New Hebrides.”
Caldwell said when his brother returned to New Hampshire after the war, Joe became a barber and settled with his wife in Concord.
At family gatherings, Joe, who died several years ago, talked about Pearl Harbor, said Caldwell, “but not too much because he saw too much.”
Joe’s claim to fame — like his brothers John, Warren and Eddie, who also served — “is he got home safe,” Caldwell said, although danger was never far away.
When the Japanese attack started, Joe, said Caldwell, “went out the door to see what was going on and he saw machine-gun bullets hit in front of him.”
In a letter read virtually by Commandant Margaret LaBrecque, Gov. Chris Sununu said it was important that people continue to commemorate Pearl Harbor as a way to honor “selfless service” and to reflect on the courage of those who were there.
U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan delivered their remarks personally, but via pre-recorded video messages, with Shaheen noting that Pearl Harbor — like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 9, 2001 — brought Americans together.
“Our freedom has been paid for in the lives of men and women willing to pay for it,” said Shaheen.
Hassan said those who died at Pearl Harbor did so in the name of freedom, liberty and justice, creating what U.S. Rep Chris Pappas, also virtually, later called a “tremendous debt.”
“Today and every day,” said Pappas, “we pay down a little of the debt.”
In a letter read by Allan Bailey, the president of the Veterans Home Resident Council, U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster said it was “only through the sacrifice” of men and women who were at Pearl Harbor that America is able to enjoy its freedom today.