The gray sky and pouring rain painted a melancholy picture among those who gathered to remember the victims of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Sitting and standing in the Town Hall lobby on Dec. 7, government officials, veterans, and residents of North Attleborough attended a ceremony to mark the 81st anniversary of the surprise military strike on the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The bombings by the Japanese Imperial Army killed 2.403 U.S. personnel—of those 68 were civilians. The attack led the United States to end its neutrality and officially join the allied forces in World War II.
The ceremony, hosted by Veterans Agent Stephen Travers, began with a moment of silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives during the attack. Travers then told the stories of those who risked their lives during the bombing—such as the late Commander Samuel G. Fuqua.
“Sam Fuqua was stationed in the U.S.S Arizona. He was having breakfast when the sirens first sounded,” Travers said. “He immediately headed to the bridge only to be knocked out cold when a bomb fell feet away from him. Fuqua ignored gunfire from enemy aircraft to help evacuate crew members.”
For his bravery and actions at Pearl Harbor, Fuqua received the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration. Fuqua passed away at the age of 88 in 1987.
Another sailor honored by Travers was Doris Miller, an African American man who served on the battleship West Virginia. During the attack, Miller helped several wounded sailors and operated an anti-aircraft machine gun without any proper training. He shot down four to six Japanese fighter planes.
“Miller was one of the men who moved the ship’s mortally wounded skipper to safety,” Travers said. “Despite having no training himself, he was blasting away at Japanese fighters.”
Miller was killed in action in 1943 by a torpedo attack on the battleship, the U.S.S Liscome Bay. He was awarded the Navy Cross and was the first Black American to receive this decoration.
World War II veteran and North Attleborough native Cas Salemi was present at the event and said he vividly remembers where he was when he learned of the attack.
“I remember playing basketball with my friends and then we all stopped playing,” Salemi said. “We then gathered around the radio and listened to the whole thing and how the Japanese were bombing the base.”
Salemi, 99, is the town’s oldest veteran. He said the memory always stuck with him throughout his time serving in the 251st artillery battalion in New Guinea.
“I’ll never forget that day,” he said. “Never.”