Long time Tyrone resident remembers Pearl Harbor attack

Attack came a surprise to many and changed the course of many American’s lives.

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date that will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan” stated President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 8th, 1941 in his now famous address to the nation.

More than 2,400 military and civilian lives were lost and another 1,200 were injured that day. The attack destroyed almost 20 American naval vessels, including eight enormous battleships, and nearly 200 airplanes.

We had no idea where Pearl harbor was in the first place and how serious it was at the time.  We didn’t know, we just listened to the news like 17 and 18 year olds, which we all were””

— Lee 'Ski' Wertz, Tyrone

No one, including longtime Tyrone resident Lee “Ski” Wertz,  was ready for such a sudden attack on American territory.

It was early in morning when Wertz, 19 yrs old and attending Mansfield University at the time, first heard of the attack.

“I walked into the main building there, and everyone was excited talking about the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor,” said Wertz.

“We had no idea where Pearl Harbor was in the first place and how serious it was at the time.  We didn’t know, we just listened to the news like 17 and 18 year olds, which we all were. It registered finally that this was a pretty serious thing and it changed all our lives after that.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor came as shock, but the United States and Japan had been teetering on the verge of war for decades, and it seemed war was almost inevitable after negotiations with Japan didn’t pan out.

American intelligence officials were confident that the Japanese would start a war by attacking European colonies in the South Pacific. Since few were expecting an attack so close to home, the naval facilities at Pearl Harbor were relatively undefended.

The majority of the Pacific fleet was anchored around Ford island and hundreds of airplanes were crowded into airfields side-by-side, making Pearl Harbor an easy target for the Japanese pilots.

The attack changed almost all Americans lives, either directly or indirectly, in many ways.  Wertz was no exception.

The sacrifice the young people ended up making to preserve what we have today, they gave their whole lives, and their whole future for us to enjoy what we have and to be a free country, If you remember anything, that is what you need to remember.””

— Lee 'Ski' Wertz, Tyrone

Like many other college age boys at the time, Wertz soon volunteered to fight in the war. He served as fighter pilot in Europe from the time he was 19 until his 22nd birthday.

“We soon learned how serious everything was. They [ Army Officials] came around the college and asked people to sign up for the Air Force Pilot training program, which some of us did. It took a piece out of everybody lives and for many of them it took their whole life, because they never came back,” said Wertz. “They’re the ones who really sacrificed.”

According to Wertz, many adults at the time were stunned by the sudden attack, but Wertz noted that young people have a different approach to things that trouble them.

“At that age you don’t worry about much,” noted Wertz,” you just try to understand, and take action, that’s what young people do, they don’t sit around and worry.”

When asked what young people today should remember about Pearl Harbor, he didn’t hold back any feelings of respect or the camaraderie he felt towards those who lost their life in service.

“The sacrifice the young people ended up making to preserve what we have today, they gave their whole lives, and their whole future for us to enjoy what we have and to be a free country,” said Wertz, “if you remember anything, that is what you need to remember.”

The events of this traumatic day enraged and united the American people against Japan, rather than making them lose their fighting-spirit and give up, like the Japanese had hoped when they calculated the attack.

“It was a sudden event that took a while to comprehend, but when we understood what was going on, everybody pitched in, and everybody in town did their job,” said Wertz

December 7th may be a normal day for you, which will pass almost as quietly as the last.

However, for many men and women, like ‘Ski’ Wertz of Tyrone, every December 7 recalls a life changing event that no matter how long they live, they will always remember.

And we should too.