Remembering those who served 75 years after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor

Posted at 5:18 PM, Dec 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-07 17:18:44-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- During an intimate gathering inside the chapel at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, U.S. Navy Veteran Richard Wellday Sr. listened, recalling his service after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor through 1946.

“Well, just like people said, it’ll never be the same; about all you can say," said Wellday. "You know it’s terrible, ‘cause all I remember is that, ‘those aren’t our planes,’ and then all hell broke loose.”

Wellday served aboard two ships as a seaman first class, remembering Pearl Harbor by the time he began serving during World War II. He says he hopes no furthers generations will ever see a war of this magnitude.

“That was a terrible time in my life," said Wellday. "I’m glad I survived it."

"I’ve been to Japan two or three times, and you couldn’t [find] nicer people, they were just like us you know. I’m sure in my heart that we’ll never have another [war like this].”

For the last 27 years U.S. Army Veteran Bill Campbell has organized and spoken at Kent County events on December 7 to remember Pearl Harbor and the 2,403 American lives lost, military personnel and civilians. Wednesday, Campbell spoke to the group at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

“There needs to be something more in the community and so this is an effort to do that," said Campbell. "My phrase, and I came up with it a number of years back:  remember to remember Pearl Harbor.”

Campbell began and ended the ceremony with a prayer, urging veterans to become involved in their community, urging the community to come together.

“And let’s keep a prayer to the good Lord, that we as a country, would be alert, that we would be duty, we would be on guard, and we’ll be able to make sure something like this never happens again," said Campbell addressing the group. "Let’s pray.”

Among the local leaders who spoke, including a representative on behalf of Senator Debbie Stabenow and Kent County Commissioner Ted Vonk, Calvin College Curator of Heritage Hall archives and Author Dick Harms humanized those lost 75 years ago.

“Numbers are easily forgotten, numbers are easily set aside, numbers are abstract but consider this: of those who were at Pearl Harbor that day there were 77 brothers in 37 sets, some were pairs of brothers, there were even brothers that were sets of three," said Harms. "Of these 77 men, 62 were killed, 80 percent."

“These are the kinds of stories that make this loss so very real: brothers died, father and son died. And we come here today to remember the sacrifice, it was a sacrifice, a tremendous sacrifice," he said.

Later this month, President Obama will accompany Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit the site of the attack, in what will be a landmark visit: Abe will be the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor since the end of World War II.