A day of infamy remembered at the lakeside VFW

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It has been 76 years since the tragic events of Pearl Harbor, a day that shocked our nation to its core. Over 2400 souls were lost that day; another 2,000 or so were injured. As the years have passed, we have fewer survivors to honor, until one day soon there will be none left. However, we must never cease to remember those who both died in the attack or survived to fight another day. We must do this for their families and for our country – let us never forget to honor those men and women who sacrificed for us.

It has been 76 years since the tragic events of Pearl Harbor, a day that shocked our nation to its core. Over 2400 souls were lost that day; another 2,000 or so were injured. As the years have passed, we have fewer survivors to honor, until one day soon there will be none left. However, we must never cease to remember those who both died in the attack or survived to fight another day. We must do this for their families and for our country – let us never forget to honor those men and women who sacrificed for us.

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day brings a special poignancy to the VFW in Lakeside. The Post honors two special men in its official name, two men who were lost at Pearl Harbor, who both hailed from Lakeside to serve their country – and who even knew each other. On Thursday, December 7, 2017 during the annual Pearl Harbor Ceremony at the Carter-Smith VFW Post #5867, Howard Carter and Rowland Smith were again honored in Lakeside.

Howard Carter was born in Medford, Oregon in 1917. His mother was Mabel Rose Carter McKay and she once owned a beauty shop in Lakeside. Carter attended Grossmont High School (which all the Lakeside kids attended back then). He was a member of the track team and joined the biology and chemistry clubs. He also participated in the Christmas pageant and the spring concert. Carter graduated in 1936. His goal in life, according to his high school yearbook, was to be a “bread and butter” man, which meant an everyday or ordinary person.

Carter enlisted in the Navy in December 1936. He trained at Naval Training Center San Diego. In March 1937, he reported aboard the USS Dobbin. He reenlisted in 1940 and was awarded a good conduct medal. Carter advanced to Coxswain Third Class in February 1941. On December 7, 1941, Carter was still on the Dobbin as it was anchored at Pearl Harbor.

Carter had manned Gun #4 during the attack where he was struck by bomb fragments and died from extensive wounds. He was 24 years old.

Rowland Hampton Smith was a native son born here in 1921. His mother died before he graduated from high school. Smith grew up with his father in the Riverview Farms area of Lakeside and, of course, attended Grossmont High School. In fact, Smith and Carter were on the track team together in 1936. Smith also played in the school band. He graduated high school in 1939 and enlisted in the Navy.

Smith also attended boot camp at NTC San Diego and initially reported aboard the USS Yorktown in April 1940. He served on the USS Indianapolis, USS Arctic, and the USS Rigel before being assigned to the USS Oklahoma in September 1941. There he advanced to Musician First Class. Smith was qualified as a piano player for orchestra work and played the bugle.

Smith was presumed to be on the Oklahoma during the attack. His remains were declared non-recoverable, never having been identified. He is listed as some of the nearly 390 unknown victims from the Oklahoma. Those remains are buried in the mass graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii. The USS Oklahoma Memorial was dedicated on December 7, 2007 on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor. Smith was 20 years old when he died.

Carter and Smith were posthumously awarded the American Defense Service Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, and the Purple Heart.

The Carter-Smith Post VFW #5867 was organized in January 1946, after Lakeside resident Les Kephart called together a group of veterans and decided to pursue the project. Kephart was the Charter Commander; the Charter Ladies Auxiliary President was none other than Howard Carter’s mother, Mabel (or May Belle) Rose Carter McKay.

The VFW also honored another of its own, Roy Cooper. A veteran of World War II, Cooper is now 92 years old and resides in Montana. He is a life member and his comrades recently voted to make him a legacy life member, which serves to honor Cooper with a plaque, pin and hat pin, and a bronze membership card. Cooper grew up in Lakeside with his two brothers and one sister. In fact, the family home still stands at Winter Gardens Boulevard and Lemon Crest Drive. His late brother Beryl also served in the military was is a charter post member. Cooper was believed to be the last surviving charter member of the VFW, but another was coincidently discovered by this reporter.

While reviewing the list of Post charter members, I noticed the names of my great uncles on the certificate. Brothers of my paternal grandmother, these siblings served in World War II and then returned to Lakeside to work on their father’s turkey ranch on Wildcat Canyon Road. Marvin Hamlet, also known as “Tiny,” moved his family from the area in the late 1960’s. He still resides in Lodi and is approaching his 95th birthday.

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