Monday, December 5, 2011

Pearl Harbor survivors share stories of attack

HONOLULU (AP) — Clarence Pfundheller was standing in front of his locker on the USS Maryland when a fellow sailor told him they were being bombed by Japanese planes.
"We never did call him a liar but he could stretch the truth pretty good," Pfundheller said. "But once you seen him, you knew he wasn't lying."
The 21-year-old Iowa native ran up to the deck that Sunday morning to man a five-inch anti-aircraft gun. Seventy years later, he remembers struggling to shoot low-flying Japanese planes as smoke from burning oil billowed through the air.
"This was the worst thing about it — yeah, your eyes — it bothered you. It bothered your throat too, because there was so much of that black smoke rolling around that a lot of times you could hardly see," he said.
Now 91, Pfundheller will be returning to Pearl Harbor on Wednesday for the 70th anniversary ceremony honoring those lost in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack that brought the United States into World War II.
Accompanying him will be fellow survivors, other World War II veterans, and a handful of college students eager to hear their stories. The student and veteran group will be among 3,000 people attending a ceremony the Navy and the National Park Service hoist jointly each year at a site overlooking where the USS Arizona sank in the attack.
The College of the Ozarks program aims to preserve the stories of veterans — something that's becoming increasingly urgent for Pearl Harbor survivors as the youngest are in their late 80s.
Pfundheller said he enlisted in the Navy in 1939 because he kept hearing there was going to be a war and he wanted to know what to do when the fighting started. By the time Japanese fighter planes and torpedo bombers invaded the skies above Hawaii, he was well-trained.
Even so, the scene was utterly chaotic.
Commanders hadn't expected Japan to strike from the air, so Pfundheller's anti-aircraft ammunition was locked away in a gun locker. Then, when he gained access to the 3-foot-long, 75-pound shells, Pfundheller said the Japanese planes were flying too close for him to take aim.
"You could see them pumping their fists and laughing at you," he said.
The Maryland's crew scrambled to prevent their battleship from going down with the USS Oklahoma, which rolled over after being hit by multiple torpedoes.
"We had to cut her lines tied up to us because it was pulling us away," he said.
Altogether, 2,390 Americans lost their lives in the attack. Twelve ships sank or were beached, and nine were damaged. The U.S. lost 164 aircraft. On the Japanese side, 64 people died, five ships sank, and 29 planes were destroyed.
After the war, Pfundfeller returned to Iowa where he worked as a district feed salesman and became an elementary school custodian. He now lives in Greenfield just 12 miles from Bridgewater, the town where he was raised.
Many veterans didn't talk much about their experiences after World War II, and Pfundheller's own children didn't hear what he went through until he began sharing his stories at schools and libraries.
"People in the Midwest where I lived — why, you just went back, got your job and went to work and nobody asked anything," he said.
Today, efforts are under way to make sure stories like his are handed down to younger generations.
Pfundheller and four other World War II veterans are traveling to Hawaii with 10 students from the College of the Ozarks, a Christian school in Branson, Mo. After Hawaii, the group will travel to Japan to visit Okinawa, where the U.S. and Japan fought a brutal battle in the last few months of the war, and Hiroshima, where the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb.
Heather Isringhausen, a 21-year-old senior who will be one of Pfundheller's two student escorts, said she wanted to join the trip in part because she's never been able to get her grandfather to tell her about his experiences serving in World War II.
She wants to know what the veterans were thinking at the time, and what life was like in the 1940s.
"If most of the veterans are anything like my grandpa, they probably haven't talked much about it," Isringhausen said. "Once they're gone, all we'll have left are history books and movies and different tales that people have been told and written down."
Guy Piper, who was brushing his teeth in his barracks on Ford Island when the attack began, said he was honored to go on the trip. He said programs like this make "us older people feel good."
The sailor who served in World War II and the Korean War said he would share with the students his hope that younger generations won't have war.
"When you see young men like I saw on Dec. 7 — a bunch of blood — it just stays with you. You can't get rid of it. That's what war is about. Just plain hell," he said. "I'd like people to stop and think about staying away from wars."
Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service's chief historian for Pearl Harbor, said the program fits in with the theme of this year's events: how the legacy of Pearl Harbor will be carried on by future generations. But he lamented more survivors aren't alive to tell their stories.
"It's a little sad because it's coming a little late," he said. "I wish it could have happened at the 50th anniversary when there were so many of them around."
In a reminder of how many are passing on, the ashes of two survivors who died after living until their 90s will be interred within their sunken battleships this week.
Navy and National Park Service divers on Tuesday will lower Lee Soucy's cremated remains into the USS Utah, which rolled over and sank next to Ford Island after being hit by a torpedo. Soucy died last year at the age of 90 in Plainview, Texas. He'll be joining some 50 men who perished when the ship sank and eight survivors whose ashes were interred there after their deaths decades later.
On Wednesday, divers will place Vernon Olsen's ashes in the USS Arizona, where many of the sailors and Marines who served on the ship are still entombed. The Arizona lost 1,117 crew members during the attack. Olsen was one of the 334 who survived. Olsen died in Port Charlotte, Fla. in April at the age of 91.
Dec. 7 events in Hawaii this year will feature a parade. Marching bands, military families, and dignitaries are expected to walk along Waikiki's main drag, Kalakaua Avenue. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions as a soldier in Italy in 1945, will be grand marshal.



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Is Iran pursuing a systematic strategy to provoke its enemies? It's not always that simple.

Amid rising clamor in Israel, the United States, and Europe to stop Iran's nuclear program – possibly with military action – a brief but incendiary news item emerged in Iran.
It purported to quote from the last will of the architect of Iran's missile program, "martyr" Maj. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, who died when a mysterious explosion hit a Revolutionary Guard base last month.
"Write on my tombstone: This is the grave of the one who wanted to annihilate Israel," the obscure Student News Agency reported on Nov. 30, in apparent contradiction of the official line that Iran's missile program is purely defensive.
MONITOR QUIZ: Weekly News Quiz for Nov. 27-Dec. 2, 2011
The decision to publish Moghaddam's final sentiments just a day after hundreds of ideological basiji militants stormed the British embassy – tearing down the Union Jack, stealing portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, and temporarily trapping six diplomats – will be seen by some in the West as further justification for conflict, or at least far harsher sanctions.
IN PICTURES: Iran's military might
What might appear to be part of a systematic strategy by Iran to provoke its enemies, however, may instead be the latest episode in a decades-long pattern of Iranian factions and even "freelancers" using violence and provocative acts to undermine rivals at home – even at the risk of making Iran more vulnerable to attacks from abroad.
Power struggleThe Nov. 29 attack on the British embassy has been cast by analysts as part of a power struggle between Iran's archconservative factions, with some trying to undermine President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The argument that Iranians are very strategic is [wrong]. They are very tactical: They think very much in terms of the next move, and not where they want to end up," says Shahram Chubin, an Iran specialist based in Geneva for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
All critical debates in Iran today are among ruling but fractious conservatives, with almost no input from the emasculated liberal opposition, he says.
"There's no one to say: 'Hey, have we thought through what this means, because if we alienate the international community, and antagonize the EU all over again, won't we be more vulnerable to an Israeli attack?' " says Mr. Chubin.
"Also there is a tradition of freelancing.... In this case I wouldn't be surprised if it's the Qods Force," he adds, referring to the branch of the Revolutionary Guard that handles covert operations beyond Iran's borders. During the attack on the embassy, portraits of the Qods Force chief were held aloft, and some who breached the gates were identified on Farsi-language websites as Qods Force officers.
The British were an easy target for a regime incensed with increasing pressure from the West.
"There isn't an American embassy to attack," he says. "If you've got a shadow war going on with Israel and the United States, in which people are getting killed and bombed, and facilities are getting attacked, and then they put more pressure on you through the [United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency] and the EU and US sanctions – well, you lash out."
Predictable response; unpredictable endgameThe response was severe: Britain shut down the Iranian Embassy in London and expelled Iran's diplomats; the European Union slapped sanctions on 180 more Iranian entities and people; and the US Senate voted unanimously in favor of sanctions against all who do business with Iran's central bank.
Those were predictable results, but they are leading to an unpredictable endgame. And they fit a long-established pattern that stretches back to 1979, when militant students – acting without the knowledge or even the tacit approval of Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – seized the US embassy.
Khomeini later endorsed the move, which was aimed at liberals in the fledgling government but also helped forge a generation of mutual US-Iran hostility.
"It is common for competing groups to sacrifice national interests – such as Iran's international credibility – to achieve their own goals," writes Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a recent analysis.
He quotes the 1988 resignation letter of then-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who complained that his authority had been "taken away" by interference from the supposedly weaker president.
Mousavi wrote that military and intelligence operations were taking place abroad without his government's knowledge. "Only after an airplane is hijacked are we made aware of it. Only after a machine gun opens fire in one of Lebanon's streets and its noise echoes everywhere do we find out. Only after [Saudi police] find explosive material in Iranian pilgrims' baggage am I informed."
The president in question, Ali Khamenei, soon succeeded Khomeini as supreme leader, a post he retains today.
'Freelance' operationsA number of actions, apparently have since contributed to the tarnishing of Iran's regime.
One involved the Karine A cargo ship, which was seized by Israel in 2002 while en route to Gaza – or possibly to Hezbollah in Lebanon – and carried 50 tons of weaponry including Katyusha rockets, which were loaded onto the boat in Iranian waters.
Iranian sources told the Monitor that when then-President Mohammad Khatami sat all of Iran's security and intelligence chiefs around a table and asked for an explanation, none admitted a role.
President George W. Bush soon there-after labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil."
Another freelance operation may be the alleged assassination plot claimed by the US Justice Department in October, which accuses the Qods Force of using an unlikely used-car salesman in Texas to hire Mexican drug-cartel assassins to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington.
"So unlikely are the details that only a power struggle in Iran could justify it," suggests Mr. Khalaji. "If so, the plot's target likely was not [the ambassador] himself, but rather those elements in the regime that seek a diplomatic opening to the US – namely, Ahmadinejad and his circle."
Indeed, the alleged plot prompted US lawmakers to ratchet up their rhetoric against Iran, with some calling for the "killing" of Iranians to avenge what they called an "act of war" and past killing of Americans.
From the Iranian side, are these all signs of deliberately arousing regime enemies, or the fallout from settling their own scores?
“The attack on the British Embassy was not only illegal and disgraceful, it was also a sign of how statecraft has deteriorated over the past years as a result of internal bickering,” writes Trita Parsi, author of the forthcoming “A Single Role of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran,” in the Huffington Post.
“Key actors within the regime are willing to take excessive risks on the international stage through reckless actions in order to score points in their petty domestic rivalries,” writes Mr. Parsi.