As Number Of Pearl Harbor Survivors Dwindles, Pittsburghers Remember Their Stories

Dec 7, 2016

The USS Halsey passes before the USS Arizona Memorial during a moment of silence at the Joint Base Harbor-Hickam, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Honolulu. Survivors of the Japanese attack, dignitaries and ordinary citizens attended a ceremony at Kilo Pier to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack on the naval harbor.
Credit Eugene Tanner / AP

Nathan Rosswog showed his eighth grade students a photo of his grandfather, a World War II veteran. The Urban Pathways Charter School teacher told them his grandfather wasn’t at Pearl Harbor, but shared stories of friends he knew who were at the naval base during the attack.

The number of veterans still alive who survived the Pearl Harbor attacks 75 years ago is diminishing. It’s a hard concept for young people to grasp, many of whom don’t remember the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Attempting to make Pearl Harbor relatable, Rosswog read his students diary entries from a 17-year-old girl named Ginger who lived on Oahu in 1941.

Nathan Rosswog, a teacher at Urban Pathways Charter School, shows his eighth grade class a picture of his grandfather, a World War II veteran, during a discussion of Pearl Harbor.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

“It’s all so sudden and surprising,” he read. “I can’t believe it’s really happening. It’s awful. School is discontinued until further notice. There goes my graduation.”

He walked them through a timeline of the attack and explained how it thrust the country into the Second World War.

“A lot of times it can be this stand-alone event and they can understand it that way, but my challenge is to help them connect that with the bigger picture,” he said.

He asked students to imagine they were living on the base during the attack. He asked what they would do. Some said they would be scared and take cover, some said they would want revenge.

The Heinz History Center also commemorated the anniversary with a flag folding ceremony. Frank and Eileen Chiprich, of Monongahela, whose fathers were both WWII veterans, said they’re making a conscious effort to talk to their grandchildren about the events of Pearl Harbor and the impact of the war.

“When our grandson left for kindergarten, we talked to him about that,” Eileen Chiprich said. “We hope that we’re instilling the importance of this special day in history.”

Frank Chiprich said his father enlisted in the Navy right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Retired Army Air Force veteran Robert Casey, 92, and his wife Natalie, 90 at the Heinz History Center on Dec. 7, 2016. Robert Casey says he tells stories about his time in the war to his four children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

“(He) was on the first aircraft carrier in the Navy, Kaneohe Bay,” Frank Chiprich said. “Which struck in the Pacific and retired after that.”

Retired Army Air Force veteran Robert Casey joined the military shortly after he turned 18. He said he remembers hearing about the events 75 years ago.

“I was a 17-year-old kid,” Casey said. “That was Dec. 7, 1941. I went into the army Oct. 31, 1942. I was 18 in September and a month later I was in the army. But, you know, 18-year-olds, you couldn’t wait to go.”

Casey, who is 92 years old, spent three years in the service, from 1942-45. He said he flew 47 combat missions in the South Pacific on a 10-member crew of a B-52 Bomber.

Frank and Eileen Chiprich said they’re doing what they can to make sure Casey isn’t alone in remembering what happened that day.

“We hope people remember because, unfortunately, generations to generations forget what happened on this day,” Frank Chiprich said. “Which was, well, one of the most disastrous days in American history, beyond 9/11.”