PUNTA GORDA — On the peaceful Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Englewood resident John Seelie of the 25th Infantry Division was going to Honolulu. But when the first flight of Japanese Zeroes swarmed down on Wheeler Field bombing hundreds of aircraft on the ground, he knew it was “a bad idea.”
By day’s end, that quiet Sunday morning 71 years ago would be anything but peaceful. Japan’s sneak attack at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands would catapult America into World War II, and would forever change the world in which we live.
“I can still remember this second lieutenant standing about 30 yards or so from us when a bomb dropped near him,” Seelie recalled. “The blast took off his socks, shoes, pants, underwear — but he still had his tie on. All he suffered was a concussion. He was lucky.”
On Friday, Seelie, 90, attended a Pearl Harbor ceremony at the City Marketplace site in Punta Gorda, to remember that tragic day and pay homage to those who were killed. The event, titled “Pearl Harbor: Lest We Forget,” was part of the city’s 125th anniversary celebration, and was sponsored by the Military Heritage Museum and the Marine Corps League of Charlotte County Detachment 756.
The program featured retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Martin Jordan as the keynote speaker. Also attending Friday’s ceremony were local veterans John Gideon, 92, Bill Raney, 90, and Harold Fitzgerald, 90, who were stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck that terrible day more than seven decades ago, where an estimated 2,400 Americans lost their lives.
Jordan, who served two tours in Vietnam and three more in Latin America with Special Forces, posed a question to the more than 100 people in attendance.
“Why should we remember Pearl Harbor?” he asked. “Is an event that occurred 71 years ago still relevant today?”
According to Jordan, the answer is a resounding yes. It must be remembered so history will not be altered or misconstrued. There were valuable lessons learned from that tragedy, Jordan told the audience — the importance of aircraft carriers over battleships became a reality, the value of accurate intelligence, and the methods of fighting wars were changed forever.
“We learned that we could not be isolationists,” he said.
However, despite these military innovations that emerged after the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. quickly forgot them when World War II ended, Jordan said.
“The keyword was now demobilization,” he continued. “When the Korean War started five years later, we were not prepared.”
The ramifications of Pearl Harbor are still felt today with “real threats” from the Soviet Union, China, Syria, Iran and terrorist activities, Jordan said.
Jordan dedicated his speech to the Pearl Harbor survivors, whose organization, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, was dissolved last December because of attrition within its ranks.
“There were few people whose lives were not touched, directly or indirectly, from the Pearl Harbor attack,” he said.
To honor those who were killed that December day, Jordan read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He felt the 16th president’s speech, first delivered in November 1863, five months after the bloody battle was fought in Pennsylvania, still had relevance today.
As the 21-gun salute from the Punta Gorda Police Department, and the haunting sound of taps from bugler Bob Powers filled the air, Lincoln’s immortal words still rang true: “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”