Veterans mark Pearl Harbor attack 75 years later in Easthampton  

  • Bob Donovan of Westfield, a U.S. Navy and Air Force veteran, right, stands with others Dec. 7, 2016 during a gathering to memorialize those lost at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. The gathering was held at the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Brad LeVay, president of the Veterans Council of Northampton, attends Wednesday’s gathering in honor of those lost at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jim Bronson of Holyoke, a U.S. Air Force veteran, listens to speeches during a gathering Dec. 7, 2016 to memorialize those lost at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. The gathering was held at the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux, left, and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz toss a wreath from the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge during the memorial.

  • Steve Connor, director of Central Hampshire Veterans Services, left, speaks during a gathering Wednesday to memorialize those lost at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, second left, looks on. The gathering was held at the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Brad LeVay, president of the Veterans Council of Northampton, left, Gerry Clark, treasurer of the Veterans Council of Northampton, Steve Connor, director of Central Hampshire Veterans Services, and Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux stand at attention during the Pledge of Allegiance Dec. 7, 2016 during a gathering to memorialize those lost at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. The gathering was held at the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Veterans stand at attention on the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge in Easthampton during a gathering Wednesday to memorialize those lost at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

@JackSuntrup
Published: 12/7/2016 5:09:14 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Japanese war planes swept into Pearl Harbor 75 years ago, killing more than 2,400 Americans. The day after, from a podium directed toward U.S. lawmakers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dec. 7, 1941, would be a date “which will live in infamy.”

Has it?

It has for the 40 or so veterans who gathered off Route 5 near the Easthampton/Northampton line on Wednesday.

On this day, Dec. 7, the veterans, their spouses, dignitaries and others drive here for their yearly ritual to remember the attack and to honor those who died.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz issued a proclamation. So did Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux. They dropped a wreath from the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge into the Manhan River as police cruisers blocked off traffic. Veterans stood in formation and shot ear-busting blanks toward the sky in a three-volley rifle salute.

Steven J. Connor, director of Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services, told those gathered his affinity for such ceremonies grows as the years roll on.

“It’s been 75 years,” he said. “But every one of those people that passed away, everyone who served and died, and all those people who served but survived want the rest of us to remember what they went through. What it was to them.”

He added, “The longer I do (this), the more I appreciate what these moments are about.”

No veterans who were stationed in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 were at Wednesday’s ceremony. Two local veterans who were there — August “Augie” Woicekoski of Northampton and Edward F. Borucki of Southampton — both died last year at 94.

It is believed that at least two western Massachusetts veterans who were stationed at the Hawaii base are still alive: Joseph Mielesko, who resides at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and Robert Greenleaf of Westfield, said April Brackett, project coordinator at the veterans’ service office.

Seventy-five years is a long time.

The attack at Pearl Harbor jolted the United States into World War II. Young men fought and died on battlefields far from home — in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, on the beaches of Normandy, atop frigid Aleutian island mountains spiraling off from Alaska.

Allied troops liberated Europe. And, after the United States dropped two atomic bombs — first on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and then on Nagasaki three days later — Imperial Japan fell, too.

The war shifted history in a seismic way. The United States would no longer be an isolationist nation, but would take a lead in world affairs. The globe was sliced up by the victors — between Allied forces and Communist Russia — setting the stage for a decades-long Cold War.

For Brad LeVay, who had four brothers who served in World War II, remembering that impact and the bloodshed of those who died is why he returns to this memorial bridge every Dec. 7.

LeVay, who will turn 85 in January and is the president of the Veterans Council of Northampton, walks with a cane and uses hearing aids. The Marine Corps veteran served in the Korean conflict, which some people refer to as the forgotten war.

“I’ll tell you something: It was cold,” he said. “Korea is cold.”

He doesn’t use the word lightly. On Wednesday at the ceremony, it was chilly, but not frigid. The ground was damp and a fog hung over the hillsides.

“That killed a lot of guys,” LeVay said. “Frostbite took feet off. Hands. Ears.”

In March 1953, his life changed. LeVay didn’t get into specifics, save to say that shrapnel ripped through his legs and nearly took off his friend’s head.

“When you see that, you never — you never forget it,” LeVay said. “Why should he die and not be remembered? He’d be here today with me. It’s just — that’s why I think it’s important to keep these things going.”

These days, LeVay said, it’s hard for people to understand. And among young veterans who did serve, it’s also difficult to get them interested in veterans’ causes, he said.

He spoke about the recent flag burning at Hampshire College in Amherst that set off an avalanche of news coverage and stoked anger among veterans.

“That flag means a lot to a veteran,” LeVay said. “I know the kids have a right to protest and we gave them that right. But I didn’t give them a right to burn the flag. I honor it and I wished everybody did.

“We’re in this country — we’re all together. And we gotta, you know, pull together and get over this stuff.”

On Wednesday, a Hampshire College spokesman said the American flag at the center of campus was being flown at half-staff, in honor of those who died in Pearl Harbor.

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.




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