TILTON — Veterans and their families gathered at the New Hampshire Veterans Home on Friday in remembrance of the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
During the ceremonies, which included remarks by U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, veterans young and old snapped a smart salute as taps was played in honor of the 2,403 service members killed when the Japanese tried to destroy the Pacific fleet.
Speaker Marilyn Walsh of Bethlehem recounted that her late father, Philip Walsh, was a gunner’s mate aboard the USS Vestal, a repair ship that was berthed next to the USS Arizona battleship when the attack began.
Aware he was at Pearl Harbor, Walsh said that she only learned after attending Navy reunions of the survivors that he had served aboard the Vestal with Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph George, who refused a direct order to cut loose a line tying his ship to the sinking Arizona.
Noticing six badly burned and wounded sailors trapped on a tower on the burning behemoth, George threw a weighted heaving line to the stranded men allowing them to climb 60 feet off the ship through smoke, fire and strafing of Japanese fighter planes to the deck of the Vestal. Recognized as a hero by those he saved, George was never officially decorated.
In July of 2017, thanks to the efforts of his daughter Joe Ann Taylor, George was honored with a Bronze Star with a V for valor after two of the survivors, Lauren Bruner of California and Donald Stratton of Colorado, both age 95, wrote a letter detailing George’s heroism.
“When Joe George was ordered to cut the line, which would have dropped all of us into the fiery water to our deaths, he refused,” the pair wrote.
Marilyn Walsh, who served 20 years in the Air Force, is still among those pressing for George to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless acts of heroism.
She recounted that her own father suffered greatly from PTSD brought on by his experiences at Pearl Harbor but like most survivors returned to civilian life after the war. He spent his career as a police officer in Lynn, Mass., and died in 1981.
Retired U.S. Army Maj. Warren Huse, a Laconia historian, recounted how the City on the Lakes responded to the sneak attack. All civilian aircraft were grounded and private pilots were sent to Concord to turn in their licenses to fly. Enlistment in all the branches of the military boomed.
Volunteers were recruited to serve as air raid wardens, ground observers and auxiliary police. Within days of the attack, an observation tower was manned atop Laconia High School. A guard was also hired and posted at the city’s reservoir to protect the drinking water supply from potential poisoning by the enemy.