WWII veterans reflect on 71st anniversary of attacks at Pearl Harbor

Even though many World War II veterans in the Myrtle Beach area may not have been in the military when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, all likely can recall what they felt when they learned the United States had been attacked.

U.S. Merchant Marine veteran John T. Schmidt said he was 14 years old when the bombs hit Pearl Harbor and it reshaped the way he viewed the country he lived in.

“I became a patriot at the age of 14 years old … when I joined the New Jersey [National] Guard,” said Schmidt, who lives in Garden City Beach. “A year later I joined the American Naval Cadets and at 17 I went into the Merchant Marines and served in the south Pacific.”

Friday marks 71 years since the bombs fell in Honolulu, Hawaii, and World War II veterans said it was that day that they knew they would serve their country.

“When Pearl Harbor was bombed, morale was so boosted to protect our country,” Schmidt said. “The United States pulled together the very next day and people were beginning to understand what our role would be.”

U.S. Air Force veteran Warren Vong, also a Garden City Beach resident, recalled exactly what he was doing when he heard the news.

“I was with a friend and he was able to get his father’s car and we were listening to the car radio … and that’s when we learned what happened,” he said. “Since we were in ROTC we knew that we would serve somewhere.”

Vong – who was a 19-year-old college student in Minnesota at the time – enlisted in the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps the next year, trained and ended up being sent back to school because there was no room for him in officer candidate school.

“I should have been happy … but I joined the Air Force instead,” he said. “I went through the training they had and became a pilot.”

Vong said he wasn’t afraid when he learned about the attacks at Pearl Harbor.

“At that age you’re not afraid at all,” he said, but he admitted he felt a sense of surprise. “And resignation to the fact that the entire country would have to do things to rectify what the Japanese had done at Pearl Harbor.”

Myrtle Beach resident Jack Platt said his older brother, Clarence Platt, was stationed in Pearl Harbor in 1941 when it was bombed. Clarence enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941 when he was 17 years old and was stationed in Pearl Harbor that December when the Japanese attacked, Jack said.

Clarence served in the Naval Air Corps and his plane, which was sitting on the tarmac, was destroyed in the attack.

Jack Platt, following in the footsteps of his big brother and generations of Platts before him, enlisted in the Navy in 1944 when he was just 16 years old.

“I forged my birth certificate … to show that I was 17 years old,” he said in November.

“I was 16 and about 7 months old.”

Clarence Platt died in January and Jack is scheduled to inter his brother’s ashes at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Jack Platt said it was always his plan to have his brother interred at the cemetery known as the Punchbowl.

“My brother always told me … everything began there, and he thought he’d like to have his life end there as well,” Jack Platt said.

Platt, who organized a 2007 trip for veterans to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., said most of the veterans he spoke to chose to enlist because of Pearl Harbor.

“Young men across America from the fields to the farms, auto mechanics, college students and seniors in high school immediate went to sign up to serve their country,” Platt said on Tuesday, the day before he was to begin his trip to Hawaii. “My father was 48 years old and he went down to sign up. They said, ‘you’re too old.’ … He’s not the only one. A lot of people did that.”