Pearl Harbor always on their minds
Veterans Jim Culpepper, left, and Bob Shay of the Post Falls American Legion reflect on Pearl Harbor on the anniversary of the Japanese attack.
This display at the Post Falls American Legion is a tribute to the USS Arizona.
This art at the American Legion in Post Falls depicts the USS Arizona Memorial.
Veteran Bob Shay reads the "Tribute to the U.S.S. Arizona" that stands at Post Falls American Legion on Tuesday.
Staff Writer | December 7, 2022 1:07 AM
POST FALLS - Just inside the front door of American Legion Post 143 in Post Falls is a 100-year-old piece of Hawaiian koa wood.
It's beautiful, but it's what is embedded in that wood that gives meaning for veterans.
It's a piece of steel artifact that was removed from the superstructure of the USS Arizona that was sunk in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, taking with it 1,177 sailors and Marines.
Even though it was 81 years ago, the day is well remembered by veterans.
“That day will always stay sacred to me,” said American Legion Post 143 Commander Jim Culpepper. “It was a shock. The citizens were in shock that day. Nobody could believe it happened. It did happen, and it could happen again. You can’t predict it. That’s why we’re always trying to prepare ourselves for anything that could happen.”
On a snowy Tuesday afternoon, it was quiet at the American Legion on Poleline Avenue. Only a few cars were in the parking lot. The main banquet room was being prepared for Christmas celebrations happening Saturday. Culpepper, with fellow veteran and Post 143 1st Vice Commander Bob Shay, took care of paperwork in the main office.
Shay, who has visited Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, spoke of oil that leaks from the Arizona and bubbles to the surface. It's still down there, in 40 feet of water.
“People say it’s like the tears of the people who are entombed there," he said. "There were quite a few."
Shay walked to another piece of art dedicated to the USS Arizona Memorial. It reads, “To the memory of the gallant men here entombed and their shipmates who gave their lives in action on Dec. 7, 1941.”
On another wall is a USS Arizona wreckage certificate, next to a Sept. 27, 2006, article by Brian Walker of the Coeur d’Alene Press, “Touching the USS Arizona: Vets bring Pearl Harbor history to Post Falls.”
The attack that Sunday morning killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians. It destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including eight battleships.
Shay, a Navy veteran, said Dec. 7 is a day he reflects on World War II. On those who fought in it. Those who died in it.
It is a day he thinks about the sacrifices of so many. He hopes all Americans do the same.
“It’s the only day that’s actually set aside to remember,” he said. "For me, and a lot of us here, Dec. 7 is that day."
The 1965 high school graduate said, in his time, World War I, World War II and the Korean War were still being taught.
"They were an important part of history,” Shay said.
Culpepper served in the Navy from 1964 to 1968, and went on to serve 24 years in the Army Reserves. That was followed by a long career with the Idaho State Police.
Pearl Harbor is never far from his mind.
“In my eyes, it was a shock to the world,” Culpepper said. “We were lucky that the aircraft carriers weren’t there.”
Culpepper is convinced that what kept the Japanese from attacking the U.S. on the mainland 81 years ago was, “We had too many armed citizens. They knew they would be outnumbered.”
Shay said many Japanese military officers in World War II attended school in the U.S. and understood the country was one in which civilians could and would defend it, and had the means to do so.
“There’s an American with a gun behind every blade of grass. It’s not like going into China and all the other countries they invaded," he said. "America is armed."
The sneak attack, Culpepper said, showed what could happen.
“And in my mind I’m always thinking about Pearl Harbor and what’s going on today,” he said. “Could that happen again with Russia or China? Yes, it could.”
This is why he and Shay share these two words: Never forget.