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City observes 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack

Thursday, December 08, 2016 - Updated: 7:15 AM

John Purcell/Recorder staff Amsterdam resident Helen White waits for the Amsterdam's memorial observance of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor to begin Wednesday afternoon. The ceremony was held on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge.


Recorder News Staff

Dozens of local residents gathered on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge Wednesday afternoon at approximately the same time the first bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago.

At least one person remembered the moment the news hit home.

Amsterdam resident Helen White, 82, was seven years old when the Japanese attacked the United States naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii. White, who was one of about 45 people attending the city's memorial observance, said her father was traveling home when he heard on the radio about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her fathered announced the news to the family after he arrived home.

"When he said the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor we had no idea where that was," White recalled. "It meant a lot to me to be here."

White has since visited Honolulu and historical military sites across the globe, such as Normandy and the gravesite of General George Patton at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.

Army veteran Ray Ciotto, of Amsterdam, said the attack on Pearl Harbor is a very important event, which should never be forgotten.

"It will always affect us just like 9/11," Ciotto said. "It's a day of infamy. No one will ever forget it."

Ciotto was only five years old when the attack happened spurring the United States entry into World War II. He said he does not remember the day of the attack, but he could recall the end of World War II.

Carol Ciotto said commemorating the 75th anniversary was an important milestone for the city to recognize.

Amsterdam kicked off its memorial observance at 12:55 p.m., which was the approximate time when the first Japanese bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor.

City Historian Robert von Hasseln said one of the first casualties of the attack was Amsterdam resident William Hasenfuss Jr., who served as a member of the 22nd Material Squadron, 17th Air Base Group, Bomber Command, Hawaiian Air Force at Hickam Field in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941.

Retired Lt. Col. von Hasseln, commander of the city Polish American Veterans, said the time selected for the ceremony is when bombs fell on Hickam Air Field and killed Hasenfuss.

Von Hasseln was pleased with the turnout for the ceremony and glad the weather cooperated to hold it on the pedestrian bridge. Holding the ceremony on the bridge also allowed von Hasseln and 1st Ward Alderman Edward Russo to drop a wreath into the Mohawk River, which was followed by "Taps."

"I like us going back to that symbolic tradition of putting a wreath in the water, because all the waters of the world are connected," von Hasseln said.

Mayor Michael Villa credited von Hasseln with spearheading the memorial observance Wednesday, which von Hasseln said has not been held for several years.

"We need to never forget and while it may not be possible to do it every year, at least on the key anniversaries we need not just to lay back and say, 'Well, we stopped doing it. I guess it's done,'" von Hasseln said. "If you don't stop every once in a while and look back, you not only don't do honor to the people who died and served but you also lose your ability to draw useful information out the sadness."

Russo read prepared remarks from Villa, who was unable to attend the event. Villa said the attack on Pearl Harbor was one of those moments that instantly changed the lives of Americans.

Von Hasseln said putting an event into true context can take many generations. He said the attack on Pearl Harbor reminds us of the importance of being prepared, but more importantly to review assumptions.

"People say they were unprepared and caught flat-footed, but no, they were prepared tor entirely the wrong thing," von Hasseln said. "They expected the Japanese were going to attack in the Far East and the risk in Hawaii would be submarines and sabotage."

Von Hasseln said there was also a "tremendous" amount of miscommunication within the U.S. military leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

John Purcell/Recorder staff

From left, First Ward Alderman Edward Russo and City Historian Robert von Hasseln, commander of the city Polish American Veterans, prepare to toss a wreath into the Mohawk River during the city's memorial observance of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

John Purcell/Recorder staff

David Gizara, member of the Polish American Veterans, plays "Taps" during the ceremony.