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VSMS band members play the National Anthem during the Pearl Harbor ceremony.

Every Dec. 7, Alex Vasquez does his part to help his students and community do something that became a phrase to motivate Americans to win World War II 70 years ago: Remember Pearl Harbor.

And every year, the Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School teacher offers new stories, new lessons and brings to life forgotten history of “The Day of Infamy.”

This year, the audience learned of the 16 Days story; three sailors were trapped in a storage closet, which had access to air and food. For several days, sailors heard tapping, but were not able to reach the men. When salvage crews finally reached that storage area in the spring of 1942, they found a calendar on which an “x” had been marked every day from Dec. 7 through Dec. 23.

The teacher also told the story of Joseph Lockard, the radar operator who saw the Japanese planes approaching via the then-new radar system, but was unable to convince his superiors that danger was approaching. Lockard died in November of this year.

Another Pearl Harbor hero Vasquez helped his audience to remember was John Finn. After the attack began, Finn found a 30-mm gun, set it up in an open area on a runway and began firing at Japanese planes. He shot down at least one – maybe as many as three – although being hit more than 20 times. He later received the Medal of Honor. Finn died in 2010, at age 100.

Vasquez, the grandson of a WWII Navy veteran, has led a Pearl Harbor memorial ceremony at noon every Dec. 7 for the past several years.
“As long as I am here, we will do this every year,” he said at the end of the first ceremony several years ago.

The ceremony begins at noon, which in Iowa time was the time the attack began that morning. Vasquez recites the chronology of that morning’s events, and pauses for a moment of silence to honor the exact time that the USS Arizona sank, carrying 1,177 men to their deaths.

VSMS band members played the National Anthem at the beginning of the ceremony; Vasquez told the audience that on the USS Nevada, the band was playing the Star Spangled Banner when the attack began; they finished the song, but played it faster before taking cover.

Another group of students read after-action reports which detailed the courage of Americans in responding to the surprise attack. Many commanders wrote that sailors responded bravely without needing orders first.

Along with his historical presentation, the teacher has a constantly-growing collection of World War II memorabilia. New this year are two Japanese flags, each with writing on it. A friend of the father of Vasquez – who attended the event – has permanently loaned them to Vasquez. The teacher has asked the Smithsonian Institute to help identify the writing on the smaller flag, which was issued to Japanese personnel.

A piece of iron from the USS Arizona is also part of the collection. American uniforms, Japanese swords and ration books are among the other items on display each Pearl Harbor Day.

Below are links containing more information about stories from Friday's ceremony:

Radar operator Joseph Lockard

Radar operators reunited

16 days

Medal of Honor recipient hit more than 20 times

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Comments (1)

I attended the Pearl Harbor ceremony yesterday along with Dave Travis from Shellsburg. This was the first time I was aware of this program being held in Vinton. I was so impressed and moved by Mr. Vasquez's presentation of the events of Dec. 7, 1941. I just want to thank him and the students for all they did to make this such a meaningful ceremony.
By: Jay Herman on December 8th 1:45pm

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