Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7th, Seventy Years Later

A Sentimental Journey

It has been seventy years since the attack on Pearl Harbor and the surrounding airfields including Kaneohe where my father, Conrad R. Frieze and his brother Richard S. Frieze were on December 7th 1941.  There are few survivors left and as their Baby Boomer children age I wonder if that date will become just another date on the calender.  Twenty years ago I was substituting for a teacher's aid at a middle school on Dec. 7th and was appalled that the young teacher of the resource history class wasn't sure if the attack on Pearl Harbor was the beginning or the end of WWII for the United States.  It made me physically ill that the Peninsula School District has anyone that ignorant teaching school.

Beginning in 1981 my father went to Pearl for memorials every ten years. When he died in 2002 I’d intended to go for him for the 70th anniversary, but our financial situation changed in the meantime and the time away from work and the money such a trip would cost wasn’t in the budget.

Last week my darling husband Dave saw an article in the News Tribune about a PBY Memorial Foundation that has been set up at the Sea Plane Base at Oak Harbor NAS. One day away from work and a ferry ride between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island was doable. It was a bonus that Oak Harbor NAS was my Uncle Dick’s last post before he retired from the Navy and Whidbey Island is not unfamiliar to me.

I was able to arrange an excellent sub to be with my student at school and so I was set. Then it occurred to me that the museum to which we were going might enjoy having a large pen and ink drawing of a PBY which I had inherited from my father. We have a lot of wall space in our cathedral ceiled living room in Gig Harbor, but when we move to our home in Ilwaco there will be no such wall space. Since my father, who was many things including an artist, did not draw the picture I could part with it and believe that he would have approved so down it came.

The base was having a ceremony to commemorate December 7th, but it was to be at 8:30 AM. We might have gone the night before and stayed in a motel, but between a dog and a Special Needs daughter it didn’t seem advisable. I had to be content with visiting the museum and taking them my picture.

Oak Harbor was dressed in American flags in part for December 7th and because the last large squadron from Oak Harbor NAS returned from Iraq this week. When we arrived at Building 12, where the museum is housed we took pictures of the buttoned up PBY parked next to the building. I had never been that close to the sort of plane my dad and Uncle Dick fought back from on that Sunday morning. Seeing the waist hatch I could almost see those two, just babies really—19 and 20—with my father feeding his older brother ammo while Uncle Dick thudded away on a fifty caliber machine gun and even downing a Japanese Zero or so our family mythology goes. We cannot prove that it was Uncle Dick’s hunting prowess that brought down the Zero who once disabled crashed into a hangar, but as far as I am concerned, those two boys were true American heroes.

Inside Building 12 we were greeted by Richard Rezabek, the chairman of the board of trustees for the PBY Memorial Foundation. When I told him that I had a picture I wanted to donate he and the other docents were thrilled. Dave brought the picture in and it was ooed and ahhed over. I donated it in memory of my father and was delighted that it had a home where more people would see it and it would be well cared for.

The paperwork done, Dave and I wandered around the exhibits viewing bits and pieces of the PBY’s past. I could almost feel my dad walking beside me telling me about what I was seeing. How I wished he was. There are certain days that I miss him more than others and December 7th certainly is one of them.

While focusing on WWII and the Navy’s use of the PBY, there are other exhibits there was well from the Korean War in which my father’s younger brother was a Sea Bee, and the War in Vietnam. As I walked around and viewed the exhibits it occurred to me that I have other memorabilia that might be best served by being at this museum and will probably donate more things in the near future. We were told that during the summer the PBY on display outside will be open for viewing and I think a family outing that includes children and grandchildren would be wonderful.  The museum is open Wed. - Sat., 8 AM to 5 PM.  You need photo ID and car registration to get onto the base.

I am older, by a long shot, than my grandmother was seventy years ago tonight when she lay awake in her cousin’s bed in Bona, Missouri listening to the radio reports about the attack and the deaths at Pearl Harbor. It would be several days before she arrived back in Vancouver, Washington and received a telegram from my father and Uncle Dick telling her and Grandpa that they were well and wishing them a Merry Christmas. How they must have suffered not knowing if their oldest children were dead or alive. As the mother of sons I am well able now to appreciate how young they were and how my grandparents must have felt.


Lorrene said...

What a great post. To think that we both had somebody there that day. What a day in history.

Jimh. said...

WOW!! Great post! Of course, you knew I'd come through as soon as I saw a PBY! Thank you for the heads up, I did not know Oak Harbor had a museum, and I like to think I am well informed! I'll have to plan a visit!

I spent half of class time explaining the importance of the day. I corrected them every time they said it began was going nice and strong well before the Japanese attacked us!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Mr. Rezabek told us that there is a PBY at the museum at Arlington, WA and one at the museum in Tillamook, OR. I like the idea of the PBY Memorial Foundation being housed on a Naval base.