Pearl Harbor remembered by friends of those killed
John Fells was in downtown Norwich when he learned about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I was at the Palace Theater,” Fells said. “It used to be on Ferry Street. It’s a parking lot now.”
He was with a friend, Dick Burke, who already had joined the Navy.
“He was back home on leave, so that Sunday he said ‘Let’s go to the movies,’ ” Fells, 85, said. “About halfway through it stopped. The manager, Mr. Hamilton, made the announcement, and said that all servicemen were being ordered to report to their stations.”
Burke stopped at home before returning to Norfolk, Va. Two other acquaintances of Fells would not be so lucky.
Mike Quatro and Harry Carlson, both of Norwich, were among the more than 1,100 men who died aboard the USS Arizona. Sixty-six years later, the battleship still sits where it sank, straddled by a memorial to the more than 2,000 U.S. servicemen killed Dec. 7, 1941, the “day of infamy” that brought the United States into World War II.
“I knew them, though I didn’t hang around with them,” Fells said. “Mike lived around the corner from me on Centennial Square. I never had any classes with Carlson. We all went to (Norwich Free Academy). I might have had one with Mike.”
Their deaths moved Bahria Harb Hartman of Norwich, then 14, to begin a scrapbook tribute to local servicemen killed in action, a book being preserved by Norwich’s Otis Library. It now has more than 150 names.
“They would have been 19 at most,” Fells said. “It was stunning. You don’t know what to think. You hear about a lot of things like this, but it’s so far removed. When you know the people, it means something. It hit pretty close to home when (Norwich) found out two of our boys went down with (the Arizona).”
Too young to be drafted at first, Fells, then 18, enlisted in the Army in August 1942.
“I started as an engineer building runways,” he said. “My unit was sent to Burma, but just before they were sent overseas, I was put in the band.”
The trumpeter was kept stateside. He was discharged in 1946 and spent five years in the Merchant Marine. He went back in during the Korean War and eventually retired after 20 years of service.
George Bousquet, commander of the Frederick J. Sullivan Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2212 in Taftville, served in Korea from 1959 to 1962. He said his post has only a handful of World War II veterans remaining.
Bousquet said many veterans, regardless of the era, are dismayed by what he thinks is a fallen reverence for Pearl Harbor Day, marked by fewer remembrances attended by fewer and fewer people.
“Everybody seems to have forgotten about it,” he said. “We should be (recognizing it), but for some reason those seem to have disappeared.”
Fells plays his part in keeping the memories of Carlson, Quatro and their shipmates alive. He spoke Wednesday to fourth- and fifth-graders at Greeneville Elementary School.
“That needs to be done,” he said. “There aren’t too many of us left. We have to try to keep the memory going as long as we can.”
Reach Michael Gannon at 860-425-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org
AT A GLANCE
Pearl Harbor facts:
- Pearl Harbor was attacked just before 8 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, by carrier-based bomber and torpedo planes of the Japanese Imperial Navy.
- More than 2,400 Americans were killed.
- All eight battleships, moored along Battleship Row, were damaged. Five were sunk or sinking at the end of the attack. None of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers were in port at the time.
- The attack destroyed 164 American aircraft. Twenty-nine Japanese aircraft were shot down.
- The USS Arizona is not commissioned, but still flies the American flag.
- The 184-foot Arizona Memorial was dedicated in 1962.
- The Arizona contained more than 1.4 million gallons of fuel when it sank. Approximately two quarts a day still leak from the ship. Survivors refer to the oil droplets as “black tears.”
Sources: The Naval Historical Center and the U.S. National Parks Service