By Juliann Weston
The spirit of gratitude permeated the mid-morning air on Sunday, Dec. 2 as dozens gathered at the USS Ling, part of the New Jersey Naval Museum, on River Street in Hackensack for the annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony to honor those lost during World War II.
This memorial is hosted annually by veterans who run the museum as a way to pay homage to the 3,400 lives lost on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941.
“Three wars, no bullet holes. I’m walking, talking and breathing. What more could you want?” asked 90-year-old World War II vet Bob Grenz. “When people come up and shake my hand, I’m going to take that as a thank you for all of the guys who didn’t make it back.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech announcing the attack and America’s declaration of war played in the background as guests gathered for the service.
From the call to order and the Presentation of the Colors, straight through to the Tolling of the Bells and the rifle salute by American Legion Post 162 of Hillsdale, the program was filled with emotion.
“We are dedicated to perpetuating the memory of the submariners that have come before us and teaching those that are following after us,” said Leslie Altschuler, commander of the U. S. Submarine Veterans NJ North Base and Eastern North Region District II. “It’s very important that we remember the freedoms we have now are because of what our veterans did in World War II or we wouldn’t be here now and what our military is still doing today.”
Each chapter of the World War Submarine Veterans in the nation has adopted one of the 52 boats that were downed at Pearl Harbor. The local chapter is named after the USS Gudgeon, which was the first U.S. Navy submarine to sink an enemy warship in the war.
The USS Ling wasn’t part of Pearl Harbor yet it served as the perfect backdrop for the telling of the tragedy. At 312 feet long, the 2,500-ton vessel looms out of the Hackensack. Commissioned for use in 1945, it was docked in 1973 in Hackensack in lieu of getting scrapped.
Complemented by various pieces of World War II memorabilia such as a torpedo, land and sea missiles, a German submarine, also known as a Sea Dog, a Japanese suicide submarine and a small war boat, the naval museum is a living testament of human dedication and sacrifice.
The Hackensack-based museum is one out of 165 in the country but its future is now in question thanks to Hurricane Sandy, which left the building in incredibly bad shape. This year’s service may be the last if the funds needed to repair the building are not collected. Without the museum, the submarine veterans fear that the memory of those lost during World War will soon fade away.
Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan used the ceremony to pledge her support for restoring the museum.
“When I come here, I know that with all of the veterans who are here today, I am among giants,” she said. “You went to war and saved our peace and saved our country. Certainly, for as long as I am county executive, we will never let this day go unmarked.”
In addition to veterans and their friends and family, the event was attended by members of the Army Air Force Historical Association, the US Naval Sea Cadets – Iwo Jima Division, Tin Can Sailors, Military Transport Association, Korean War Veterans Association, Boy Scout Troop 305, U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc., U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II, U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary.
“It’s a wonderful honor for us to be here and just take part in all this,” said Wayne Placek, commanding officer, Army Air Force Historical Association.
The significance of Pearl Harbor was emphasized as a bell was tolled in honor of each submarine lost on that fateful day.
Tom Conlon, commander of SubVets, Inc., echoed what many were thinking. “We remember.”
To support the museum, contact the New Jersey Naval Museum at 201-342-3268 or visit www.njnm.com.