As I sat in the back of the room waiting for the local Pearl Harbor Survivor Carnation Chap. 3 San Diego Installation, I watched as the president walked around the room greeting members with a luminous smile and hugs. As he headed towards me, I stood tall ready to salute, but before I could, he grabbed me and gave me an immense hug finer than any firm handshake I have ever received. I was instantly moved as this hero, this survivor’s firm hold on me left me filled with his love of life, resilience and compassion.
As I sat in the back of the room waiting for the local Pearl Harbor Survivor Carnation Chap. 3 San Diego Installation, I watched as the president walked around the room greeting members with a luminous smile and hugs. As he headed towards me, I stood tall ready to salute, but before I could, he grabbed me and gave me an immense hug finer than any firm handshake I have ever received. I was instantly moved as this hero, this survivor’s firm hold on me left me filled with his love of life, resilience and compassion. A Pearl Harbor survivor, President Stu Hedley, now 96, continued on, not knowing just how much that hug meant.
This was one of the most poignant installations that I have ever attended. Listening to the officers’ talk about the work they do every day in this organization was inspiring to say the least. Hedley spends many hours speaking to thousands of people of all ages across the county, telling them his story of what happened at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. But in watching his manner, you would never guess that he was a survivor of one of our nations’ most traumatic turns in American history. But it was evident that his purpose is to let it not be forgotten and to support all those that lived through it, their families and the generations that came after in teaching them the importance of why we need to know, recognize and remember that single day in history.
The room lit up when Ray Chavez, another Pearl Harbor survivor, now 105-years-old walked into the room. Chavez had just returned from Phoenix, where he was honored at its Veterans Day parade as its Grand Marshall. He is the oldest known Pearl Harbor survivor in the world.
It was a moving installation as Command Master Chief Tom Conway, USS John Finn swore in each and every officer individually and personally. Hedley said that it took them years to get the U.S. Navy to name a ship Pearl Harbor, and it took just as many, if not more to name one after Chief Petty Officer John William Finn, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II.
Following the installing of the 2018 officers, Roy Zanni of the National Buglers Association and U.S. Marine Corps played “Taps” from outside the room. It was a beautiful moment, as it seemed that the entire world stopped in time, as the “Taps” signal echoed through the halls of the Good Samaritan Retirement Center in El Cajon. The installation was followed by a friendly luncheon hosted by the Good Samaritan that has adopted the organization for its monthly meetings and special events.
PHSA Chapter 3 consist of 17 Pearl Harbor survivors, seven spouses, 51 surviving spouses and 37 associate members and honorary members, many of which are children that lived through the Pearl Harbor attack and children of Pearl Harbor survivors that want to continue working in the community in honor of their parents.
The Good Samaritan Retirement Center is a nonprofit organization founded and run by the Sisters of the Chaldean order and owned and operated by the Chaldean Catholic Sisters. Administrator Susan Sorensen said that the Good Samaritan is open to residents of all faiths and backgrounds and that it is a common belief that it is only meant for Chaldeans, when in fact the residents that live there mostly come from other denominations and backgrounds. It is a full service facility that serves all from assisted to hospice care. Good Samaritan is located in the heart of Rancho San Diego, next to St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Church.
As we come close to the 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, this event was moving and emotional for me in so many ways. Being in the presence of heroes of history, it made me thankful that we still have these people in our lives today. There is much that we can learn from them, not only in our American history, but in living our daily lives. The warmth of reception that I received was overwhelming in so many ways. Surprisingly, towards the end of the installation, I was presented with a quilt from the Quilts of Valor San Diego. This quilt, made by hand, truly represented my service in the Navy, with pictures that came as close as could be to the ships that I served on, naval insignias and a beautiful display of American symbolism. I was so honored that I still do not have the word to describe just how much this quilt, made of love and devotion to veterans means to me. It is not only a treasure to me, but will remain a treasure in my family as it is my hope that it will be passed along my family for many generations to come. Being in the presence of those that preceded me and thinking of the veterans and active duty that followed my time in serving our country, it reminded me of how fortunate I am. There are so many before and after that deserve recognition much more. Quilts of Valor is a rare special gift and I thank all that are involved in the Quilts of Valor program for every stitch and the thoughts that went into the creation of this very personal gift that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you, not only for myself, but for the overwhelming dedication of ensuring that veterans know in more than words that they are valued, with a tangible “thank you for your service.”