At dusk on Wednesday, a distinguished group of seven men gathered on chilly Mount Diablo to light a beacon that shines west toward Pearl Harbor, reflecting back in time 70 years.
Seven men from the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Mount Diablo, Chapter 13, told their dramatic stories — and one recited his own poem. They helped state park rangers and Save Mount Diablo continue the tradition of lighting the beacon on Dec. 7 to commemorate the sacrifices of the day of infamy.
The importance of Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies is not to bring attention to survivors like him, said Chuck Kohler of Concord.
"It's an attempt to bring well deserved honors and continued remembrance to those who didn't survive," he said. Kohler urged the audience of 125 to go down the mountain, look back up at the beacon, and remember those who perished —including those who remain entombed in the depths of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.
In the fearful years after Pearl Harbor, the Mount Diablo beacon wasn't used because of national security fears. In 1964, legendary Admiral Chester Nimitz asked that it be relit every year on Dec. 7.
Seventy years ago, Lloyd Busbee was shaving in his room at a naval air station at Pearl Harbor. He was startled to see a half-dozen bullet holes appear in the wall next to him — he was being strafed.
Busbee ran outside to see fighter planes banking, and the Japanese rising sun symbol on them.
"My heart was down at my feet," he said. "What I dreaded was happening."
Three days later Busbee, a radioman for seaplanes, flew over the harbor to see the most sickening sight of his life. "The entire fleet was turned over, smoking, bottom side up. The proud Navy was no more." Busbee, now 97, lives in Livermore.
The "calm and quiet of that long-ago Sunday morning in a tropical paradise," Kohler recalled in a voice choked with emotion, was shattered by exploding bombs, torpedoes and "the sighs of the dying."
These images and more were in a poem Kohler wrote after a visit to Pearl Harbor a year ago. He committed the poem to memory and delivered it on top of Mount Diablo.
Kohler was part of an aerial patrol squadron on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. He saw perhaps the first bomb that fell, which wounded him. "I was able to express my displeasure with that 50-caliber machine gun," Kohler said wryly.
He survived to marvel at the new supplies, ships and troops that came to Pearl Harbor in the months and years afterward. He participated in the Pacific island-hopping campaign in which the U.S. Navy retook many strongholds.
"We did not win every battle but we damn sure did win that war," Kohler said to applause. "If we had not won that war, there would be far fewer of you people here tonight."
With its numbers dwindling, the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is folding. The Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors will pick up the torch, vowed Kathleen Farley of Concord, and work with the park and Save Mount Diablo to continue the Dec. 7 beacon tradition.
Vietnam veteran Steve Barton sang The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. Bugler Frank Dorritie performed Taps.
Coffee and refreshments were provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 75 in Danville.
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