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Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor survivors dwindling in NH; ceremony planned Sunday in Nashua

MERRIMACK – With each passing year, those who survived and remember the “date which will live in infamy” grow fewer.

Locally, Pearl Harbor survivor William Lefabvre Sr. passed away Oct. 14 at age 92. The Merrimack resident was a highly decorated World War II and Korean War veteran who was instrumental in founding the now-defunct New Hampshire Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Chapter 1. ...

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MERRIMACK – With each passing year, those who survived and remember the “date which will live in infamy” grow fewer.

Locally, Pearl Harbor survivor William Lefabvre Sr. passed away Oct. 14 at age 92. The Merrimack resident was a highly decorated World War II and Korean War veteran who was instrumental in founding the now-defunct New Hampshire Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Chapter 1.

Lefabvre was one of the last, if not the last, Pearl Harbor survivor in the state.

The attacks from Japan’s naval forces struck the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, in Hawaii, killing 1,177 sailors and marines aboard the USS Arizona. Griffin
Dalianis, the commander of Disabled Veterans in Nashua, who spoke with Lefabvre at a few military-themed functions, believes that the memory Pearl Harbor attacks could fade in the dark recesses of history.

“After a while, everything will be forgotten,” he said. “People born then know about it. Nowadays, though, unless they catch it on the Military Channel on cable, they don’t know why it happened, what it was.”

Lefabvre also campaigned to get the Pearl Harbor survivors symbol embossed on New Hampshire license plates and was at the 2009 dedication ceremony of the new bridge on the Merrimack-Bedford line that leads to the
Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Shortly after his death, his son-in-law Warren Meehan said Lefabvre became more vocal about remembering the Pearl Harbor attacks as time went on.

“By that time, you’re talking 40 years,” Meehan said. “All the demons, all those horrible thoughts and memories became more of a favored remembrance, because obviously he worked very, very hard with the state of New Hampshire in campaigning for recognition for Pearl Harbor survivors nationwide.”

But those numbers are dwindling. According to a December 2011 article by CNN, “Aging Pearl Harbor attack survivors passing on the baton,” the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which was founded in 1958, dissolved Dec. 31, 2011. There were 84,000 uniformed Americans stationed on Oahu during Pearl Harbor. At the time the article was written, roughly 8,000 survivors across the country remained, most of whom were in their 80s and older.

There is another organization that has grown in recent years, according to the Official Pearl Harbor Tour site. That is Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, which has around 20 chapters.

Before his passing, Lefabvre sat down with The Telegraph and recalled his memories of that fateful day, Dec. 7, 1941. As a member of the Navy, he was stationed on the USS West Virginia, which sank in the attacks.

Thankfully for Lefabvre, instead of being aboard the ship, he was on land, looking for a ride to church that Sunday morning. The first wave of Japanese attacks came at 7:45 a.m. As he was looking for a ride, he looked to the sky and saw planes in the distance.

“When they got in close enough, I could see they had that big red circle,” Lefabvre said in 2011. “I couldn’t believe it.”

The blast from one of the first bombs dropped knocked Lefabvre off his feet and hurled him into the oil-slicked ocean. After he pulled himself out of the water, he realized the explosion had knocked his clothes right off his body. He eventually was able to locate clothes at a supply depot.

After the attack, Lefabvre served on the USS West Virginia, which was salvaged from the attack, and later the USS San Francisco and took part in 17 major battles in the Pacific Theater.

“The thing that bothers me is I often think of those poor fellows and shipmates of mine that I lost on the account of the Japanese,” he said. “It’s an awful thing, but it’s something that keeps coming back in your mind. I just do my best.”

Nashua’s Dalianis shared the story of his parents, who were a young married couple during World War II. His mother became pregnant with him just before the Pearl Harbor attacks while living in Boston.

“My folks would talk about where they were at the time,” he said. “They were in a movie theater, and when they came out of the movie theater it was all around. … My father went and joined up the next morning, which a lot of people did. I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of people.”

The ship USS Arizona sank in the harbor and is now home to a memorial. It wasn’t able to be salvaged after the attacks because it took a direct hit on its ammunition magazine, which caused a huge explosion, Dalianis said.

In 2000, Dalianis traveled to Hawaii to take a tour of the Pearl Harbor memorials and other military places of interest on the islands. He said there are two columns at the USS Arizona memorial with the names inscribed of the sailors who weren’t aboard the ship but wanted their ashes scattered over the site. He said the ship can be seen in the water, and oil from the wreck bubbles up every minute or so.

“When you’re there and oil from 50 or 60 years ago pops up every minute, it really gives you a different feeling,” Dalianis said. “I was a little taken back with that. It was almost as if they were still alive.”

Even though Lefabvre is now gone, local veterans will continue to honor Pearl Harbor. A Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day will be held at 9 a.m. Sunday at Main Street Bridge in Nashua.

Erin Place can be reached at 594-6589 or eplace@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Place on Twitter (@Telegraph_ ErinP).