CHARLES TOWN – Before he fully understood the significance of Dec. 7, 1941, or knew the horrors his grandfather had witnessed that day on the air base in Hawaii, Shane Stoneberger had a Pearl Harbor Day ritual.
“Every year on the anniversary my dad would say, ‘Let’s call your grandfather,’’’ remembers Stoneberger, who works at his family’s business, Feagens Jewelers in downtown Charles Town. “When my grandfather would pick up the phone, I’d tell him I was calling because it was Pearl Harbor Day. He’d never say much. He didn’t elaborate about the war then.
“But we wanted him to know we were thinking about him and what had happened there that day.”
Today – the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack – is Stoneberger’s first Dec. 7 since his grandfather’s passing earlier this year.
William Walter Lloyd Sr. was 90 when he died on March 1. The decorated Army veteran survived both Pearl Harbor, the surprise Japanese attack that brought the United States into World War II, as well as the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive three years later that would prove the largest and bloodiest battle of the conflict.
“When I was growing up, my grandfather never had much to say about his war experiences,” said Stoneberger, a lifelong Jefferson County resident who is 41. “But when he was getting up in years, he began to tell us more. It seemed like it was almost a relief to him to get some of it off his chest.”
Lloyd, a Berryville, Va., native, was just 21 years old on Dec. 7, 1941, when swarms of Japanese fighter-bombers upended the Sunday morning quiet.
“He was in a Jeep with some buddies, heading to the mess hall for breakfast,” Stoneberger said. “He remembers looking up to see a bomb get dropped right into a ship’s smokestack. He and his friends jumped out and started running to help get men out the water.”
But many of those Lloyd struggled to save were beyond rescue. “He told us they pulled up so many guys that had been blown up and only half their bodies were there,” he said. “Now I understand why he never wanted to talk about it. He lost so many friends and guys he was close to that day. We remembered Pearl Harbor every December, but it was something that he lived with every day of his life, from Dec. 7, 1941, on until the day he died.”
Today in Hawaii, 100 Pearl Harbor survivors are expected to attend ceremonies as part of the landmark anniversary of the Japanese air and naval assault that left 2,390 American dead and catapulted the United States into World War II.
At sunset this evening at Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County, California, other Pearl Harbor survivors and their kin will meet to light a beacon to commemorate the anniversary.
The beacon, first installed as navigation aid in 1932, was turned off as a security measure following the devastation at Pearl Harbor. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who had the beacon relit in 1964, asked that it be illuminated each year only on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
This year’s gathering at Mount Diablo will be the finale for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a national group that dates to 1958 but will formally disband at year’s end.
“The number of Pearl Harbor survivors is dwindling fast,” said 71-year-old Carol Gladys, the national secretary of another national organization dedicated to the memory of Pearl Harbor, Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors.
That organization is open to any blood descendant of a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Gladys’ father, who grew up in Nebraska, had served on the USS Arizona for six years but shortly before Pearl Harbor was transferred to a repair ship, the USS Medusa.
“He survived Pearl Harbor, survived the war and retired after serving in Korea, ” she said.
Gladys, who lives near Cleveland, represents the organization’s District 7, covering Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Delaware and New Jersey. The Sons and Daughters group was formed in 1973.
“What we want to do is carry on the legacy of our fathers,” she said. “We don’t want Pearl Harbor ever to be forgotten. That’s why our cause is so important. We’re really hoping to get more grandchildren and great-grandchildren on board. We’re going to offer a scholarship to encourage more descendants to become members.
“We have to find ways to get the younger generations involved.”
Stoneberger said he doesn’t want to see Dec. 7, 1941, disappear from the public’s collective memory.
“We’ll never see the likes of my grandfather’s generation,” he said. “If you have the chance to talk to someone who lived through that time, you have to realize the respect we owe them.
“I know that for my grandfather, Pearl Harbor was something that was fresh in his mind for his whole life,” he said. “It would be a shame if we ever let the significance of Pearl Harbor slip away from us.”