Pearl Harbor Breakfast

Bob Henderson, the Illinois American Legion State Commander, was the guest speaker at the annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Breakfast in Teutopolis.

By Herb Meeker

News Report Staff

Sunday’s Pearl Harbor Memorial Breakfast in Teutopolis serves as a reminder the legacy of that horrific December morning in Hawaii will not be forgotten by veterans.

Illinois American Legion State Commander Robert “Bob” Henderson spoke to the gathering of local veterans and their supporters, including members of Teutopolis American Legion Post 924, which has organized the annual breakfast for 71 years. For many years, the annual breakfast, which is held the Sunday before December 7, would draw area Pearl Harbor survivors.

Those survivors are gone now, but Paul Runde and Dean Probst, both local World War II veterans, were part of the crowd that included many veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as more recent conflicts involving American military forces.

The annual breakfast is a chance for veterans to talk about their families, hobbies and the fine taste of the sausage and eggs served up by female volunteers. There is a lot of ribbing and laughter during the meal time, and then the group is brought back to the purpose of the breakfast.

Henderson noted most of the witnesses of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, are no longer with us. But it is important for all Americans to honor “a day that defined America.”

Though it was a great defeat for America, Pearl Harbor was also a costly victory for Imperial Japan. The losses from that day in Hawaii united the United States like never before in its history. The “toughness and grit” of Americans came forth, especially to avenge the sneak attack on its territory and so many lives lost.

Henderson, a Navy veteran from Homer, served from 1961-65 at different posts along the Pacific Rim, including Alaska, Hawaii, Australia and Japan. During his remarks as keynote speaker, Henderson talked about the virtues of the World War II Generation, which he grew up admiring when he attended school in Homer, a small Central Illinois town. Those virtues included service, sacrifice and valor.

Henderson showed how valor was common among men and women during the attacks on Hawaii that December morning. He noted there were 15 Medals of Honors, 51 Navy Crosses and 53 Silver Stars awarded for heroism from that day, including those who sacrificed their lives during the “unprovoked killing spree” on December 7. Some stood their ground or remained at their battle stations even though they had little chance for survival.

Though caught in the middle of a massive sneak attack by hundreds of Japanese warplanes from four aircraft carriers off Hawaii and even midget submarines, American fighters struck back.

“They were still feisty that day. They shot down 29 Japanese planes, damaged 29 more and sank or beached five subs,” Henderson said.

One can only imagine how much more damage the Americans could have inflicted on the attackers if there might have been 30 minutes warning as the planes approached Oahu.

Nearly 60 years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, America would be attacked again and heroes would again come forward, Henderson said. But the death toll that day would mostly be civilians, mostly those in the Twin Towers struck by jetliners in New York City.

“On 9/11, America was caught off guard again. It marked the beginning of a new war against global terrorism. On that day, there was similar courage from police officers, firefighters and volunteers. They ran into burning buildings.  They saved lives. So many gave their lives for others,” the State Commander said.

Just as the heroes of Pearl Harbor had looked up to the Doughboys of World War I and other veterans, the generation of 9/11 was inspired by the World War II generation.

“There are young men and women who want to live up to the legacy of those before them,” Henderson said. “And that tradition not only benefits the American military and the American Legion but the entire world.”