Valor echoes across decades


POSTED: Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sterling Cale still gets chills down his back when he recalls picking up wounded sailors and the bodies of other sailors from the waters of Pearl Harbor 68 years ago.

“;I was in the water and picked up 46 people in four hours,”; said Cale, 88, who was a pharmacist mate on the USS Nevada on Dec. 7, 1941. He had just completed the night shift and had signed out and was leaving Pearl Harbor when Japanese fighters started their attack.

Yesterday, Cale was among the more than 2,000 people who attended a 90-minute memorial ceremony at Pearl Harbor's Kilo Pier — the naval base's supply depot. The white Arizona Memorial, which spans the 608-foot sunken battleship, served as a backdrop.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Lou Conter, 88, was an enlisted man standing watch on the quarterdeck of the battleship USS Arizona when the bombs began falling just after 8 a.m.

He has attended every Pearl Harbor memorial ceremony for the past six years to honor his 1,177 Arizona shipmates killed during the Japanese attack. More than 900 are still entombed in the rusting hull that rests on the harbor bottom just a few yards off Ford Island.

“;They are the ones who deserve to be called heroes,”; said Conter. “;They never came back. They never got to go home, get married and have children and grandchildren.”;

Conter stayed in the Navy for 28 years after completing flight school in 1943, earning his wings as a PBY pilot. He served in the Korean War and was a survival and evasion training officer during the early days of the Vietnam War and retired in 1967.

Speakers at yesterday's ceremony recalled the effects the Japanese attack, which lasted only two hours, had on the Navy and the country and what it took over the next 44 months to mobilize and wage a global war.

Gov. Linda Lingle said “;the devastating attack”; shocked and “;galvanized”; the country.

Adm. Patrick Walsh, Pacific Fleet commander, said that within six months after the Japanese attack, shipyard workers at Pearl Harbor had gotten the Pacific Fleet back into action.

He said the bravery of the Pearl Harbor survivors sitting in front of him laid the foundation for the subsequent U.S. victory in World War II.

A moment of silence was observed at 7:55 a.m., the time the Japanese attack began.

Afterward, the cruiser USS Lake Erie, with its sailors standing at attention on deck, passed between the USS Arizona Memorial and Kilo Pier, saluting the crew of the Arizona. The Pearl Harbor-based cruiser then left to begin a seven-month western Pacific deployment.

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of 16 wreaths, nine to honor the battleships that were sunk or damaged during the attacks.

Aging Pearl Harbor survivors, many using walkers or canes and some in wheelchairs, were given a standing ovation after the wreath-laying ceremony.

Woody Derby, who represented the battleship USS Nevada at the wreath-laying ceremony, was in the broadside magazine of one of Nevada's 5-inch guns, aft of gun turret 2 on the port side when a torpedo exploded.

Within 15 minutes, water was up to Derby's waist, and he was forced to evacuate.

Derby spent most of that day fighting fires and working with damage control parties after the Nevada was beached at Hospital Point by its skipper to prevent it from sinking and blocking the Pearl Harbor channel.

He remembers coming on deck and, after surveying the fire and smoke, saying, “;Somebody's going to catch hell for this.”;