Pearl Harbor focus of talk
By ALLIE VUGRINCIC
CHAMPION — Eighty-one years ago on Wednesday, families across America gathered around radios to hear the news of an attack on Pearl Harbor, said Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission Director Herm Breuer during an annual program to mark the anniversary at Kent State University at Trumbull campus.
“They were shocked by the needless loss of life. Soame may have been inconsolable. However, some may have felt something like this was imminent,” Breuer said.
He said while the country was trying to avoid involvement in the war, the first peacetime draft had begun in September1940, some 15 months before the fateful attack.
“Pearl Harbor and Beyond,” sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle and the university, remembered those lost during the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and also told the stories of local World War II veterans.
Dave Luther, chaplain of the American Legion Post 700, said that the program, in its sixth year, seeks to be different than other patriotic events in its inclusion of media, plays and interviews and its occurrence in the evening, when school-age children and working adults can attend.
“I think it’s extremely important that we have it available,” Luther said. “We need to keep the story alive of the sacrifice of this generation where we lost 1,600 men in World War II, just from the tri-county area.”
The stories of Private Frank Holko of Warren, who was 19 when he joined the Army in 1942, and U.S. Navy Seaman Jeff Littell of Warren were told in videos and a short talk from Holko’s son, Jerry Holko.
Frank Holko was born March 1, 1921, in Mammoth, Pa., and grew up on the west side of Warren after his father moved to get a job at Republic Steel. A graduate of Warren G. Harding, when the Pearl Harbor bombings occurred, Holko went to downtown Warren and signed up to join the Army, Jerry Holko said.
Six months after being sworn in, he was sent to Europe to prepare for the D-Day invasion. Holko boarded a ship, crossed the English Channel and on June 14, 1944, landed on Utah Beach.
“He told me, the Germans knew we were coming, they were prepared, they put a lot of barriers in the water. So, a lot of those boats, if you were in water deeper than what your head was, with all the gear and guns, you would drown,” Jerry Holko said.
Frank Holko never expected to see home again, but after 39 months, 21 of which were abroad, he returned to the United States and was able to call home on Christmas Eve.
Littell, who was in attendance at the event, enlisted in the Navy in early 1942 with two friends and sailed through the Panama Canal to the Pacific theatre. As a gunner, he covered Marine forces during the battle of Guadalcanal. Later, he received a commendation for staying on his gun when four enemy airplanes attacked. All four planes were shot down.
Littell was docked at Okinawa, Japan, when the atomic bombs were dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Littell said in a video.
“Everything was flattened,” he said.
Like Holko, when Littell was discharged, he made it home for Christmas Eve, surprising his family.
While an at-times somber program, laughter filled the auditorium when “shore patrol” Marine veteran Jim Rapone paused in front of Littell and said, “All right, sailor, you’re under arrest. Come with me,” before escorting him onto the stage for a short interview.
Breuer produced a guitar he had recently acquired and asked 100-year-old Littell, who plays bluegrass, to tune it.
In the absence of a tuner, Hayden Thompson of Boardman offered Littell a cellphone with a tuning application. When the guitar was ready to go, Breuer and Rapone implored Littell to play a tune.
“I don’t play guitar anymore,” Littell said. “I play bass.”
Mialie Szymanski, with the dean’s office at KSU Trumbull and public relations and media chair for the state of Ohio for the Daughters of the American Revolution, presented a certificate of appreciation to the World War II veterans in attendance, including Littell, U.S. Navy Seaman George Coler of Canfield, and U.S. Army Sgt. Booker Morris of Boardman.
A certificate for Holko was accepted by his son, and Mary Ann Ryther was given a certificate for the service of her uncle, Stanley Drwall of West Virginia, who died on the USS Oklahoma during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Morris, 93, said it was the first time he attended an event like “Pearl Harbor and Beyond.” He was talking with fellow vets Littell and Coler and found that they had served in the same area.
“I just enjoyed this,” he said.
Colors were presented and retired by Civil Air Patrol and the national anthem was sung by Channing Fox of Champion High School. Scouts from Boy Scouts of America Howland Pack 122 led the Pledge of Allegiance.