Valley’s few survivors recall Dec. 7, 1941
Known as “A date which will live in infamy,” Americans will never forget Dec. 7, 1941.
And for the handful of Alle-Kiski Valley veterans and civilians who were in Hawaii that ill-fated December day, the horror of their own people being attacked still haunts their memories 66 years later.
“When I heard the explosion, I looked over toward Pearl Harbor and a big cloud of black smoke had risen and enlarged like a big balloon getting ready to burst,” said John Vrabel, 86, of the Braeburn section of Lower Burrell.
At last count, seven veterans and one civilian who survived the Japanese attack that brought the United States into World War II remain in the Valley.
Mike Ostanoski, of Harmar, read aloud the names of survivors from a list that has shrunk by a dozen names over the past two years.
They are veterans Steven Yeager of Arnold, Harry Karp of New Kensington, Nelson Ferguson of Plum, George Pann and Joseph Jezik of Harrison, Ostanoski and Vrabel.
Rose Jewert, 72, of Vandergrift, was 8 when she watched the Japanese planes fly at arms reach above her.
“We had just gotten home from church at about 8:10 a.m. when we were standing on the porch of my grandfather’s house on the plantation when the planes came through,” Jewert said. “The planes had a round, red circle on the bottom, and I remember seeing a young Japanese boy in one of them.”
Jewert’s father was a civilian working at Pearl Harbor. He was evacuated from the U.S.S. Arizona after word of the Japanese attack was circulated.
“They were hollering for the men to get off the ships and sent the dingies out,” Jewert said. “My father had got off and the first bomb hit the Arizona. There was a lot of confusion after that.”
Jewert said her father had countless stories of how the men he was with were so scared that they hid in lockers. But her most vivid memory was the sight of that Japanese boy.
“The thing that really stayed with me was the young boy in the airplane,” she said. “They flew so low.”
Ostanoski, then a member of the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, had just finished breakfast when he heard two loud explosions.
“I got done eating and was headed upstairs when I saw a plane,” Ostanoski said. “I never went up(stairs) all the way.”
Ostanoski was to be discharged on Dec. 13, 1941. He went on to be wounded while fighting in Guadalcanal and discharged in 1944.
On the morning of Dec. 7, Vrabel was relieved from his duties as supervisor of communications at Hickam Air Force Base a half hour early so he could attend Sunday morning Mass.
It wasn’t long after he had left that someone had spotted a two-man submarine and reported it to the Navy command, Vrabel said.
“I thought that was kind of fishy,” he said.
Vrabel said he heard an explosion after returning back to his sleeping quarters, which was less than a half-mile from Pearl Harbor.
“I thought it was one of the oil tankers along the shore that was used to refuel the ships,” he said. “Then little did I know that out of that black smoke came a plane with a red circle. And I knew then that wasn’t one of our planes.”
Vrabel never made it to church. He returned to duty for three straight days.
“They dropped the bomb on the ‘million dollar barracks’ and over 200 men were killed there,” Vrabel said as he started to cry. “God was with me. That was my life.”
He recalled the countless men floating in the water trying to avoid the flames that were ignited from oil and gasoline.
“That was like torture,” he said.
A day that eight Alle-Kiski survivors will certainly never forget.
‘World War II Roll Call’
The Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society has released its latest book, “World War II Roll Call,” written by Joe Bodick.
The 196-page book contains over 25,000 names of Alle-Kiski Valley men and women who served their country during World War II.
Also included are names that appear on such monuments as the Allegheny Ludlum Monument at the Vandergrift plant, the Armstrong County Monument, the Polish National Alliance Lodge in Natrona, the Republic Steel Memorial in Russellton, the Syria Temple Memorial in Harmar, and the names of those from Allegheny County that can be found on the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The book contains various color and black-and-white photos, and quotations.
To buy a book, visit the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society, Heritage Museum, 224 E. Seventh Ave., Tarentum, between noon and 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The book costs $25.