December 7, 2011
Veterans remember Pearl Harbor attacks
HOMER — Jim Smith, 91, was on his father’s farm when the family heard that hours earlier, the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.
“I was on the farm when I heard and I knew right then we were at war,” he said.
Each year there are fewer members of the community who remember the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The man believed to be Cortland’s last Pearl Harbor survivor, Clayton Hill, died last year on the 69th anniversary of the surprise attack that pushed the U.S. into World War II.
On the day before today’s 70th anniversary of the attack, Smith and another local veteran, Richard Hammond, shared what they remember from that day.
Smith enlisted in the Marines after the attack
“I enlisted in Third Marines, Second Battalion, did my training in South Carolina and fought in the Pacific,” he said. “Afterwards I went back to helping on my father’s farm.”
It was a desire to strike back and defend his country that made him want to enlist
“I wanted to get back at the Japanese,” he said.
Hammond, 88, was in his first semester at Syracuse University when he heard President Franklin Roosevelt’s broadcast on Dec. 8, telling the nation what happened.
“I was in an engineering drafting room when he said, ‘today is a day that will live in infamy,’” he said. “At the time I didn’t realize how important the attack was.”
Hearing the news of the attack was a shock for Hammond and others around him.
It was not fear that drove him to enlist, it was the opportunity to fight back.
“I think, like everybody else, I wanted to get back at them, “he said.
Two months later, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
“There was no Air Force at the time,” he said. “I was young and I wanted to be a pilot so I enlisted in the Air Corps. I wanted to do something for my country because it meant so much to me. I wasn’t trying to be a hero.”
He was stationed in Italy and flew bombing raids in Germany, Austria and Northern Italy.
After three years in Italy as a navigator on B-24 Liberators, he went home.
“I flew my 25 missions, went back to Syracuse and then I went to Cornell and got my master’s degree,” he said.
For Hammond, nothing has come close to the feeling he got when he heard that radio broadcast.
“It scared the daylights out of me,” he said.
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