At 11:00 this morning, I’ll walk over to the Hall of Flags at Lowell Memorial Auditorium where the Greater Lowell Veterans Council will conduct its annual Pearl Harbor Day remembrance ceremony. Sixty-nine years ago today, the aircraft of the Japanese Navy attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. By the time the attack was over, four US battleships were sunk, four more were damaged, 188 aircraft were destroyed, 2402 US service members were killed, another 1282 were wounded, and America had entered World War Two.
Back at the 2004 remembrance ceremony, the honored guest was Henri Champagne, a native of Lowell, who was stationed on the destroyer USS Phelps which was present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Here’s what I wrote on December 7, 2004:
Today is the 63rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Lowell Veterans’ Council held a commemorative ceremony at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium at noon today. One of the attendees was Henry Champagne who enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January 1940 and was assigned to the destroyer U.S.S. Phelps in August 1941. The Phelps was present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Mr. Champagne told of standing on deck, waiting for the 8:00 a.m. liberty boat to bring him and his shipmates to shore for a relaxing Sunday. At about 7:55 p.m., the sky filled with planes and the air was filled with the sound of explosions. The crew went to their battle stations and defended their ship as best they could. Hearing the story of this now 84 year old eyewitness to history was very moving. But why should we continue to remember Pearl Harbor? The heroic acts of those who were there that day are certainly worthy of remembrance, but more importantly, December 7 serves as a lesson, now reinforced by September 11, 2001, that we live in a dangerous world, something we can never afford to forget.
Henri Champagne died on November 5, 2006. He had enlisted in the Navy in 1940 at age 19 and besides being present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, he also participated in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway as a crewman on the USS Phelps.
Two years ago on December 7, I was honored to be asked by the Veterans Council to make some remarks at that day’s ceremony. I contrasted the response of our country to the attack on Pearl Harbor with our response on September 11, 2001.