One by one, they placed flickering votive candles on a ledge in front of an In Memorium plaque, while former Army nurse Susan Balsamo Furniss read the names of the 50 Hoosiers who gave their lives during the attack of Pearl Harbor.
Tuesday's 80th anniversary of the chilling surprise Japanese bombing that led to 2,400 dead in a matter of minutes was marked in Fort Wayne with solemnity and determination.
In Memorial Hall at Memorial Coliseum, about 50 people watched images of burning ships, falling bombs and sailors diving into the sea to escape. They laid memorial wreaths.
And they heard people who still have connections to the “date which will live in infamy,” as the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously put it.
While only a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors remain alive, the ceremony hosted by three local veterans groups showed the next generation has taken on the task of remembering.
Michael Mommer of Fort Wayne spoke of his father, Rolland Earl Mommer, who had enlisted in the Navy in the late 1930s and had a connection to Pearl Harbor. A retired teacher, Michael Mommer would shut down the normal curriculum on Pearl Harbor Day to tell the story, he said.
“I lived through things. He lived through far worse,” said Mommer, himself a vet. “I would share this (story) with (students), so they would know this really did happen.”
Another speaker told the story of an uncle who told of captaining a submarine on the way to Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack. He had a vivid memory of feeling the water rock the vessel from concussions he later learned were caused by the bombing.
“It scared the life out of them,” the speaker said of those on board.
Army veteran Robert Thomas of Garrett, curator of the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum in Fort Wayne, pointed to the experience of the late Navy veteran Clarence Cook of Fort Wayne.
He saw the USS Oklahoma being attacked. “That had to be an impact not to be forgotten,” Thomas said, noting 429 men aboard the battleship died.
The “amazing thing,” Thomas continued, is that although the attack was a surprise, “everyone that day knew what to do, running to guns, rescuing guys in the water, putting out fires.”
Cook donated some carefully preserved memorabilia, including his uniform, to the local veterans shrine and museum.
Before the ceremony ended with the playing of taps and attendees stood hand-in-hand in a circle for “God Bless the USA,” Furniss pointed to how many victims were young men in their late teens and early 20s.
They were on duty in an area thought to be impossible for the Japanese to attack, she said.
“They did not consider it an area of intense danger. They were not deployed. ... Most of the individuals were volunteers,” she said. “We perpetuate their voices.”