Peru remembers Pearl Harbor Day, ‘the day that still lives in infamy’

Residents gather to pay tribute to veterans of Dec. 7, 1941, attack

Veterans march down Water Street in the 44th annual Pearl Harbor parade and memorial ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 in Peru.

Dennis Znaniecki made a promise long ago that even after the last of the Pearl Harbor survivors were gone, the annual parade commemorating the 1941 attack would carry on.

Znaniecki, commander of the Peru Veterans Memorial Group and Peru American Legion, and his comrades kept their promise with a Saturday procession. The date that was forever to live in infamy, as Franklin D. Roosevelt said after the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, lives on in Peru as a tribute to the men and women in service.

“Almost 20 years ago, [Pearl Harbor survivor] Hank Ellerbrock was saying they’re going to stop doing it because the Pearl Harbor survivors all were passing away and were going to disband,” Znaniecki said. “I made a promise to Hank that as long we’re still alive we’re going to keep this going.”

Dozens of veterans rose to the occasion Saturday and processed from the Peru Rescue Station on Water Street to the South Shore Boat Club for a short ceremony to commemorate the Japanese attack that plunged America into World War II.

Keynote speaker Zachary Krizel, a Utica native and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, described the staggering losses from the attack. In a span of less than four hours, Japanese air forces killed 2,403 service members, sank 21 ships and destroyed more than 180 aircraft.

“This attack had one goal: To strike enough fear into the hearts of Americans that we would stand by and allow dictators to consume the globe.”

The attack, however, had exactly the opposite effect. The U.S. immediately entered the war, and American involvement would be credited for reversing gains by the Axis powers in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific theater.

The late Ellerbrock was an eyewitness to the turn of events. He was stationed aboard the USS West Virginia and previously had described the attack as “a day of hell.”

“We were forced to abandon our ship and jump overboard into water that was on fire,” he once recalled. “We splashed water on ourselves to keep from burning.”

Ellerbrock co-founded the Peru Pearl Harbor Day parade with the late Guy Stanton. They and other local Pearl Harbor survivors are gone, but Phil Valle, of La Salle, is among the later group of veterans who agreed to participate in the parade.

“This is so that we never forget the efforts they made and the tragedy they went through,” said Valle, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War. “I probably didn’t appreciate [Pearl Harbor] until later in life after I became a veteran myself.”

Peru Mayor Ken Kolowski is another longtime attendee who insists on keeping the parade going.

“Anytime you can do anything for veterans, it’s a good thing,” Kolowski said. “This is a great way to honor them.”