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.