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'United like never before'

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | December 8, 2020 1:08 AM

POST FALLS — George Rodkey paused when asked to comment on the significance of Dec. 7 and the 79th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

When he spoke, his voice was clear and firm.

“It means a choice between slavery and freedom,” he said. “Britain was having real trouble with Germany and Italy. If we hadn’t stepped in, we might be speaking German instead of English.”

Rodkey, 97, is a resident of The Bridge, an assisted living facility in Post Falls, where he lives with his wife, Dorothy.

He was one of three veterans who chatted with The Press on Monday about World War II, Pearl Harbor and their thoughts about Dec. 7.

Rodkey was attending Whitworth College and a freshman with a male quartet that performed on a KHQ program the morning of Dec. 7. The announcer stopped them afterward and said he had to break in and announce that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.

Dr. Frank Warren, president of Whitworth at the time, later told them, “Men, your lives are going to be changed.”

They were.

“All four of us ended up being in the service, we all came back,” Rodkey said.

He was in the V-12 Navy College Training program, which was “created to generate a large number of officers as well as to offset the dropping enrollment at colleges. Backed by the federal government."

When World War II ended, he was a sophomore in medical school. He remembers both VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) on May 8, 1945, and VJ Day (Victory Over Japan Day, Aug. 15, 1945).

“We were so glad to be out of the war,” he said.

Rodkey, who went on to a successful medical career, also served with the Navy in the Korean War, worked as a medical officer in Seattle and spent two years at the U.S. Navy hospital in San Diego.

He looks back with pride on his service in the military and said what turned the tide after Dec. 7 was how every American worked together, rallied with a common goal, to win the war.

“We all had a share. We were united like never before,” he said, then adding, “I love my country.”

Howard Rieckers, 99, served four years with the Marines in the South Pacific. He remembers the surprise of the attack, how the country wasn’t prepared for war but came together.

He recalled one day that his unit was about to enjoy holiday cake during a break from fighting in the war when enemy fighters strafed his camp and everyone scrambled for safely.

They made it — that time.

But the cake, he said with a chuckle, ended up going to the ants.

“I left them have it,” he said.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Veteran Carl Miller talks about Dec. 7 and about his role with the military on Monday at The Bridge in Post Falls.

Carl Miller, 99, served in the Navy for three years. He was just a young man of about 20 when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

“At that time, I never thought much about going to war,” he said.

A Third Class Petty Officer, he considered his role as postmaster on the USS Ozark “the best job in the world.”

It came with a private room and a chance to leave the ship at every port to dispatch or pick up mail.

“I was privileged,” he said.

The Ozark was involved in campaigns at Luzon, Okinawa and Iwo Jima in the Pacific against Japan.

“That was hell,” he said of Iwo Jima. “I was there 14 days. It was awful.”

The Ozark, he said, acted as a floating hospital where the wounded were treated.

Miller said the Ozark was the first ship in Tokyo Bay, he was present for the signing of the peace treaty between the U.S. and Japan, and said, “we put (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur ashore on Luzon.”

“I have some history,” he said proudly.

He recalled when the American flag was raised on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.

“As soon as it was announced, I walked out of the post office to the starboard side of the ship and looked up,” he said. “There was the flag.”

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BILL BULEY/Press

Howard Rieckers, 99, served four years with the Marines in the South Pacific. He spoke Monday with The Press about his experience in World War II.

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In this Dec. 7, 1941, photo, smoke rises from the battleship USS Arizona as it sinks during a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP Photo, File)