The sun was bright and warm Friday morning and the water lapped peacefully at the cement wall in front of Stockton’s waterfront World War II memorial.
It was an ideal setting for the commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day, almost giving a sense of what that peaceful harbor in Hawaii was like that Sunday morning 77 years ago.
Japanese planes attacked the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor at 7:53 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. Two hours later, 2,403 Americans were dead, including 1,177 sailors and Marines who went down with the USS Arizona, which was hit within 15 minutes of the start of the attack.
In California that Sunday morning, Jack Ferrill, a 16-year-old Stockton High School student, was playing a game of touch football with friends on the College of the Pacific campus.
They learned of the attack when newsboys roamed the area with Extra editions of The Stockton Record, as The Record was then known, that announced the attack.
“We all went home,” Ferrill said.
The feeling that day, as well as the next day at school, Ferrill said, was “We have to get those bastards.”
He had to wait a couple years to do that, but at 18 he joined the Marines and spent 1944 and 1945 in the Pacific Campaign. He was at Guam, then assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser.
“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Ferrill said.
That ship was safer than a lot of places Marines ventured after Guam, specifically Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Ferrill was able to return home to Stockton after the war, go to College of the Pacific as a student and become a high school coach and teacher.
Ferrill, 92, was the only World War II veteran to attend Stockton’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Friday, organized by the Veterans of Foreign War Luneta Post 52 and Karl Ross American Legion Post 16 and Ed Stewart Post 83.
He had the honor of dropping a wreath into the water, symbolically honoring those who lost their lives on that day.
In a ceremony that lasted just under an hour, those whose died at Pearl Harbor and those who responded to that surprise attack by serving their country and protecting democracy for future generations were honored.
San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott, who served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, paid tribute to one of them, President George H.W. Bush, who died last week and was eulogized Wednesday at Washington’s National Cathedral.
U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney thanked Elliott for acknowledging Bush’s service to the country, and pointed to the late Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran whose funeral service was also held in the National Cathedral.
“George Bush showed great dignity for our country as a soldier, as a congressman, as a businessman and as president of this country,” McNerney said. “John McCain showed incredible dignity for our country and I think that’s something we can all learn from: how to look at our fellow Americans with respect and dignity and working together for the betterment of our country and the security of our nation and our people.”
The surprise attack, McNerney said, reminds us “we need to be vigilant. We need to look out for our country. We need to be sure we are ready in a way that would prevent that sort of attack on our country again. It also shows the dignity that our country is capable of.”
The Navy changed its way of thinking after the attack, explained speaker Bob Blower, who as president of Stockton Rotary in 2001 worked to have what he considered a “long-overdue” Stockton tribute to World War II veterans.
Gone was the battleship mentality, Blower said. The ability of the Japanese to move aircraft within such close range of Hawaii and launch that attack thousands of miles from its home made the Navy become an agency focused on surveillance and aircraft carriers.
To cover the “vast acres of ocean” ahead of it as it sought to defeat Japan, the Navy developed a supply system by island-hopping, claiming territory as it made its way to the land of the rising sun.
The on-the-fly restructuring of the Navy is only one thing that resulted from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“There were positive impacts,” Blower pointed out. “It ended the Great Depression … and it united the country. A lot of people didn’t want anything to do with the war in Europe.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed that way of thinking.
That tragic attack brought Americans together. And on Friday, it brought more than 50 people together on Stockton’s waterfront to remember it.
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.