Newsfront - December 2, 2005
Beacon to shine in memory of Pearl Harbor victims
64 years after attack kills thousands, survivors will gather on Mount Diablo to honor their lost compatriots
by Jordan M. Doronila
The perfect Pacific water mirrored the clear blue sky while military men slept on their bunks in big battleships on that beautiful morning in 1941, recalled Pearl Harbor attack survivor Charles Engel.
But no one knew what was coming.
As Engel raised the American and Union Jack flags on a bridge at Pearl Harbor, he heard explosions nearby and a loud intercom yelling: "Man your battle stations! Japan is attacking!"
Over 300 Japanese planes with large red circles on their wings bombed Pearl Harbor that Dec. 7, killing more than 2,000 military personnel. And after the attack subsided, Engel - now a Walnut Creek resident - saw dead bodies floating in the ocean.
"It was horrible," he said. "We couldn't believe it."
Now, 64 years later, Engel and other local Pearl Harbor survivors continue to hold a ceremony on the anniversary each year.
Pearl Harbor survivors, war veterans and residents will come together at the top of Mount Diablo for the 42nd annual beacon lighting next week to honor the 2,000 military personnel who died during Japan's aerial raid in 1941.
"The event is important," said Wayne Korsinen, chairman of the beacon lighting ceremony and a Pearl Harbor historian. "The Pearl Harbor bombing sparked World War II. It's a tremendous historical day."
"It's so people don't forget what can happen," added Engel. "These things can happen."
The event - sponsored by the Mt. Diablo Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association - is Wednesday, Dec. 7, and will begin at 3:30 p.m. About 50 to 100 people are expected to attend the event, said Korsinen.
Vietnam War veteran Pete Laurence will pay homage to those who died in Pearl Harbor and will discuss the importance of American patriotism. Pearl Harbor survivors will share their remembrances, and then they will light the beacon.
The annual remembrance was under discussion because of a new $1 million park insurance requirement for protection against liability during events. There were concerns that people up the mountain may get hurt in the dark, said Craig Mattson, the new superintendent of Mt. Diablo State Park.
"We want to make sure that they don't hurt themselves," said Mattson, adding that they want the event to run as smoothly as possible.
Since event coordinators moved the ceremony to an earlier time, park administrators were willing to work with them and eliminated the insurance requirement at least for this year.
Now there will be portable and temporary lighting at the event and extra park staff available to help and guide people from the mountain to their cars, said Mattson.
Also park administrators hope to keep the event short so there will be enough sunlight for everyone to get to their homes safely, he said.
Contra Costa County Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier donated $500 to the Pearl Harbor group to help them secure the $1 million insurance requirement but since there is no requirement this year, the money is still in the organization's treasury vault, said Korsinen.
The beacon was installed in 1928 by the Standard Oil Co. to guide ships into the San Francisco Bay, Korsinen said. In 1964, Pearl Harbor Survivors repaired damages to the beacon and started a yearly lighting to honor the lives lost in 1941, he said.
The beacon will continue to shine all night in memory of the deceased.
Posted by Charles R. Engel,
a resident of Walnut Creek
on Dec 6, 2013 at 7:55 pm
IN MEMORY OF MY FATHER, CHARLES WILLIAM ENGEL
Fathers Day Memories and Recollections
Today is a great day to share an amazing article that was written about my father and other survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Like countless others, dad had a fascinating history.
THE CENTRAL CONTRA COSTA SUNDAY TIMES FRONT PAGE
December 7, 2003
Recollections give survivors strength
By Scott Marshall
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Charlie Engel's kitchen, the nucleus of the sprawling house he built for his wife, Yvonne, is resplendent with a lifetime of amassed stuff.
His comfort zone as he reflects on Pearl Harbor, it contains hints of how his past and present intersect. A faded planter's clock once hopeful for new life and growth, hangs beside a crisp sheet of paper with hospice information. There's a reminder of an eye exam Dec. 19, the same date Engel enlisted in the Navy 64 years ago, the day before his 20th birthday.
On fan adjacent wall is a colorized photograph of the minesweeper USS Zane, upon which he spent most of his nearly six years in the Navy and upon which he survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
"I survived," he says in his California-soothed Brooklyn accent. "That's what makes me tick."
Engel was a signalman. The 40-inch searchlight beam he shot from the USS Zane toward the clouds off Maui called regularly for a signal back from forces in Pearl Harbor.
Yvonne lies in a bedroom nearby, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary disease, totally dependent on Engel. A note on her door is dark marker reminds Engel to give her a drink of water. Given three months to live last January, she's maxed out the hospice care her insurance would allow and is on her own now.
"It's tough," Charlie says, gently slapping down two photos of the USS Zane adding: "That's worse than the war."
The glue of Engel's life since Dec. 7, 1941, has been his memory of surviving, and it remains strong enough to sustain him as he turns 84 this year and cares for his wife.
Engel took over as president of Chapter 13 of Pearl Harbor Survivors Association when Hank Freitas, 82, dies on his birthday in June. He presides over men similarly stationed in life. Of the chapter's original 100 members, 70 have dies and 30 remain active.
AS of Oct. 25, 1,560 survivors were alive in California and as of May 24, 6,660 nationally, say Martin Hoops, 84, of Rossmoor, the state historian for the survivors association and himself a survivor from the USS Pennsylvania. As recently as a decade ago, 12,247 survivors remained around the country, Hoops says.
Engel will speak tonight when the group illuminates the World War II-era beacon atop Mount Diablo, which is now lit only on Dec. 7 each year. After a somber ceremony followed by fellowship and some talk of their common glue -- survival now, and the memory of it then -- the beacon will burn until dawn.
The Pearl Harbor survivors' families are playing an increasingly important role.
"We are there to be their arms, their legs, their sight, "says Kathleen Farley, 49, president of the newly formed Chapter 5 of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, in Walnut Creek. Her father, John Farley, 82, of Walnut Creek, was aboard the USS California during the attack. His ship was sunk.
The families also help the survivors tell their stories, some of which didn't emerge for years after the war.
"My father would send us to Hawaii for Easter vacation, but he wouldn't come with us," Kathleen Farley recalls. "Little by little, he would start opening up."
The turning point came when a child of one of her friends sent him five questions for a school assignment to interview a survivor. "Well, my father writes a dissertation, and there was stuff I never knew," Kathleen Farley says.
Families' fear that much of what the survivors know will go with them to their graves. "It just doesn't come up in conversation, unless you attend one of their state or national conventions," Farley says.
There are reunions at Pearl Harbor every five years. Engel attended the 60th anniversary reunion two years ago.
"They think that might be the last five-year-reunion," he says. Engel, who worked 28 years as an Oakland police officer after the war, attended numerous USS Zane reunions. Only three USS Zane sailors remain whom he knows of, including one he encountered in a wheelchair at Pearl Harbor who could not bring himself to speak with Engel.
That is not uncommon.
"They skirt around the answer, some of them will just not answer at all," says Alva Barbee, treasurer of an Alameda survivors' chapter. Her father, George Saunders, a warrant officer aboard the USS Ralph Talbot, survived the attack.
"They won't tell you they have nightmares, night sweats. They end up refighting the battle in their sleep," Farley says.
Engel recounted his memories for nearly two hours.
"A lot of it is very, very vivid," he says, shadowed by one of his two Australian sheep dogs, Rico. "He's my buddy, he runs the house."
Rico is 14. Rico's sister, Samantha, has a ritual of guarding the driveway.
Virtually all of the survivors are increasingly burdened with life challenges.
"The tough part I have right now, most of my buddies are all dead," says Carl Marble, 85, of Walnut Creek, who watched the attack from a ferry landing. "The ones still alive, most of them are sick. I can't think of one … who doesn't have problems. I've been rebuilding a couple of times.
"I've never been back there," says Marble, who qualifies to be buried at Arlington.
He plans on going to Mount Diablo tonight. "I thought I'd better go up because it might be the last time I can go."
Others say the glue of their survival will keep them going back for more years to come.
"I don't think this will be the last," John Farley says. "What I'm finding from survivors, we're all fighters. We're not ready to give up yet.
Then, as if to illustrate, he says, "OK, enough of this."
Several survivors end this; they're most difficult of conversations, that way.
Engel, like many survivors, probably will have his ashes strewn over the spot where he survived the attack. "I've been going that way just recently." He nods quietly, lips firm.
Peggy Freitas, 78, the widow of Hank Freitas, says her husband's ashes will be strewn near the spot of the USS Tangier when their grandson, Christopher Freitas, 22, a sailor aboard the USS Peleliu, returns from Iraq.
Today at dusk, the beacon will start bouncing toward the East Bay clouds, not unlike the searchlight beam the young Engel sent to the heavens off Maui.
Engel will speak at the ceremony. Afterward, the survivors will eat at the Greenery, where 200 people, including an astonishing 65 survivors, said good-bye to Hank Freitas last spring.
And all the while, at Engel's house, Samantha will lie just behind the fence, peering down toward the end of the driveway, awaiting a signal just as Engel used to do, awaiting his arrival home one more time.
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