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Pearl Harbor attack still vivid for Harrison veteran, 94

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, December 6, 2016 11:54 p.m.
vndgeorgepann120716
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
George Pann, 94, of Harrison is one of the last living survivors in the Alle-Kiski Valley of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago today. .

George Pann’s blue eyes, clear despite his 94 years, look into the distance as if seeing something long past as he recalls the day, 75 years ago today, when the Japanese air force attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, thrusting the United States into World War II.

Pann, of Harrison, was a 19-year-old Army private then, assigned to the 55th Coast Artillery as part of Battery E on the northeast coast of Oahu. His cousin had recommended that he join the coast artillery so he could go to the Hawaiian Islands for an undemanding assignment in an idyllic setting.

Pann’s day — a day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt soon would declare would live in infamy — began normally, with breakfast. Pann said there had been rumors of an attack coming from across the Pacific Ocean for a week, but that he didn’t expect the day to turn so suddenly.

“I was eating breakfast around 8 when I heard some commotion outside,” he said. “I went out there, and they said planes were bombing Pearl Harbor.

“I was in the barracks, so I went into the day room and put the radio on. The reporter said planes are bombing Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field.

“Right after that, the alert sounded.”

Pann said the moments that followed were filled with confusion. Information was slow to come about the damage sustained at Pearl Harbor, rumors of an expected Japanese invasion were surfacing among the troops and the officers didn’t know what was going on.

His artillery battery was ordered north to ready for an attack.

“It took us about half an hour to get there, and the bombing continued for two hours,” he said. “And by the time we did (set up), the Japanese were returning to their carriers.

“They would strafe us as they went by. And if they had any bombs left, they would bomb us. One guy, Ed Sullivan, was killed, and two more were injured.”

Pann said he wasn’t scared — or if he was he can’t remember it now — but events of that day stay with him still.

“I think about it from time to time,” he said. “Especially this time of year.”

After surviving Pearl Harbor, he continued serving in the Pacific Theater in the Gilbert Islands, the Philippines and Okinawa, Japan.

Pann’s military stint continued until June 1945, when the 82-day Battle of Okinawa ended. Japan surrendered about two months later.

Pann wasn’t the only Alle-Kiski resident at Pearl Harbor that day, but he is the last known survivor here.

There once were 34 Pearl Harbor survivors from the Valley. As recently as 2010, Pann and six others were still living: Steve Jager of Arnold, John Vrabel of Lower Burrell, Michael Ostanoski of Harmar, Harry Karp of New Kensington, Nelson Ferguson of Plum and Joseph Jezik.

The first Pennsylvania serviceman listed as killed in action that day was George G. Leslie, a 20-year-old private from Arnold. Leslie was killed by Japanese bombers that struck the island of Oahu. Leslie’s remains wouldn’t be returned to the Alle-Kiski Valley until 1947.

George Leslie Memorial Stadium in Arnold is named for Leslie.

Of the 66,000 or so military personnel stationed around Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, fewer than 2,000 are thought to be living.

Matthew Medsger is a contributing writer.

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