Brothers at arms, and in life
Published: Monday, December 6, 2010 at 5:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 6, 2010 at 5:58 p.m.
PEARL HARBOR -- Just two of the Pearl Harbor veterans living in Sonoma County are in Hawaii today for the 69th anniversary commemoration, possibly the final national gathering in Hawaii of the aged warriors who witnessed and responded to the surprise attack by Imperial Japan that explosively changed the world.
And these two men are brothers. Never mind that Jesse Love is an African-American born to Mississippi sharecroppers and Herb Louden is white and grew up wielding his share of the load on his folks' farm outside of Kalamazoo, Mich.
Petaluma resident Louden, 93, and Santa Rosan Love, 88, are brothers in faith and in the tight but greatly diminished fraternity of former GIs for whom Dec. 7, 1941, began as just another Hawaiian Sunday. Minutes before 8 a.m., swarms of Japanese bombers and torpedo planes loosed the attack that drew America into World War II and set it on a course to become a military and economic superpower.
Love and Louden were non-combatants at Pearl. Segregation limited Love to serving as an officers' cook at Ford Island Naval Air Station. Louden was a pharmacist's mate aboard the hospital ship USS Solace, moored at the time not far from Battleship Row and the doomed USS Arizona.
Both Louden and Love are lifelong devout Christians who in the years following the war became lay chaplains in the veterans' organizations they joined. Love also co-founded and became a deacon in the late Rev. James Coffee's predominately black Community Baptist Church in Santa Rosa.
“Jesse is my brother,” professed Louden, who serves as chaplain not only for the local Luther Burbank Chapter 23 of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, but also as the association's California state and national chaplains.
“Jesse is the only man who ever told me he prays for me every day. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of it,” Louden said.
Smiling broadly at his brother in faith and at arms, Love declared, “I still do.”
Though traveling is far from easy at their age, the pair flew to Honolulu to fulfill a shared sense of duty to be present for the convention and memorial ceremonies marking the 69th anniversary of the attack that killed nearly 2,400 Americans and inflicted heavy damage on the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“The reason I'm going is because it's in respect for those men who lost their lives on December 7 and are still entombed on the USS Arizona and the USS Utah,” said Love, who worked for years as head housekeeper at the former Sonoma County Community Hospital.
“Another reason I want to go is to represent our fallen comrades from our (Santa Rosa-based) chapter,” he said.
He and Louden and the other Pearl Harbor vets at the convention — fewer than 100 attended — are a grateful bunch aware that they are triple survivors. They lived through the attack, then through the war, then through about 90 years of life.
At the association's business meeting Monday in Honolulu, Art Herriford of Sherman Oaks, the association's 88-year-old national president, expressed doubt that the elderly members and their diminished chapters are capable of mounting more conventions, especially the once-
“In another couple of years, a lot of us aren't going to be here,” he told about 90 Pearl Harbor survivors in a conference room at the Hilton Hawaiian Gardens Hotel near Waikiki.
Despite his reservations, the vets voted to meet for a national convention in 2012 in Fredericksburg, Tex. Louden said after the meeting, “I'll probably go, if I'm still alive.”
Love wasn't of a mind to consider whether he might or might not got to another Pearl Harbor convention in two years.
“All we can do is enjoy the day,” he said.
In addition to Louden and Love, two other local Pearl Harbor vets from Lake County attended. They are Walt Urmann of Clearlake, and Bill Slater of Lakeport.
It's become an exhausting chore simply to administer and maintain the association. Its mission for nearly 50 years has been fraternal and educational: survivors of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy” have by this time recounted the causes and global implications of the events of Dec. 7, 1941, to legions of school kids.
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association also has provided the vets a venue for maintaining the brotherhood forged by fire 69 years ago, and a platform for urging their countrymen, “Remember Pearl Harbor — Keep America Alert.” The vets believe their call for constant vigilance in defense of the country never sounded more relevant than when airborne terrorists struck by surprise on Sept. 11, 2001, and inflicted upon America its 21st century Pearl Harbor.
As committed as Pearl survivors are to their mission and fraternity, they're simply too old and too few to carry on with much effect.
Herriford said that when the association was created in 1962, about 80,000 military veterans were eligible to join by virtue of having been present on Oahu at the time of the attack. National membership in the organization now has dropped to about 3,000, and many of those vets are no longer physically able to get to local meetings, much less to national conventions.
The association traditionally has held national conventions in Hawaii every five years, on years ending in “1” and “6.” But the leadership decided to move the scheduled 2011 70th-anniversary convention to this year because the National Park Service today is dedicating the new, $56 million Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
This afternoon Love and Louden will attend the dedication along with Slater, Urmann and relatives, widows and friends.
For Louden, who following the war went into the insurance business, and who returned to Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary in 1991 and the 55th in 1996, being there again will surely bring back vivid, wrenching memories of 1941.
For nearly 70 years, he's thought regularly of the horribly burned young seaman, James Lackey, who was placed in his care aboard the hospital ship Solace. An officer told Louden, “He has the will to live — whether he lives or dies depends on the care you give him.”
Louden said he scarcely left Lackey's bedside for eight days after the attack. A million times he's remembered the generally unconscious sailor opening his eyes one moment and telling him, “I hope I can be as good a man as my daddy was.”
“On March 15th, 1942,” Louden recalled, “that boy walked off the ship.”
For all these years, Jesse Love has been haunted off and on by nightmares from the oil-coated misery, death and destruction he witnessed as a 19-year-old cook on Ford Island. The last surviving charter member of Chapter 23, he said that being back in the harbor today to honor all the GIs who perished that day and all who've passed since then is something he feels called to do.
He's glad Louden is there with him. Louden feels the same.
“We've come a long ways,” Love told his fellow Pearl survivor and chaplain.
“Thank God for that,” Louden replied. “For as long as I've known you, you've been my brother.”
“Always will be,” affirmed brother Love.
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