Johnnie Morris and his crewmates rushed to grab fire extinguishers moments after a bomb shredded part of the battleship USS Pennsylvania — dry-docked on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor.
He survived the attack.
But at a ceremony Friday commemorating bombing of Pearl Harbor, Morris’ widow stood in his place.
One local Pearl Harbor survivor — a Mountain Shadows resident forced to evacuate in June from the Waldo Canyon fire’s advancing flames — raised his hand as a handful of names were read.
Seventy-one years after Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, silence dominated an annual remembrance ceremony in Colorado Springs for the attack that took the lives of more than 2,000 people in Hawaii. But as past and present service members gathered on the steps of the Memorial Park Veterans Memorial, the absence of those who survived the attack became clear.
Five other known Pearl Harbor survivors still living in the Pikes Peak region remained home.
Retha Morris represented the lone widow of a local Pearl Harbor survivor. Three other veterans who later fought in World War II made it to the park.
But in the midst of that silence, each one of the 100 people in attendance Friday remembered the attack in their own way.
Jim Downing, whose home escaped the June fire’s flames after he reluctantly left it on June 23, moved through a familiar routine: Telling the story of Dec. 7, 1941, to anyone who would ask.
“There is certain indelible memories, of which the greatest was surprise,” said Downing, who was assigned to the battleship USS West Virginia.
Downing thought he’d have a weekend to relax with his wife before the Japanese attacked. He arrived to the West Virginia about 20 minutes after the first bombs fell to find smoke billowing from the hull.
“All you knew is what you saw with your eyes,” he said before the ceremony.
Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Bond focused not on the actual attack — but his memories of a re-enactment of it he saw at the age of 8.
While his father served in the Navy, Bond watched with awe as warplanes flew over Pearl Harbor during filming for the 1970 movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
In a speech during Friday’s event, Bond remembered the simplicity of viewing the mock attack as a child — and then marveled at the complexity of problems now facing the nation.
Space and cyberspace — two battlefields yet to be explored 71 years ago — require his top attention as director of command and control systems, overseeing communications and computers for the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base.
After the ceremony, Retha Morris recalled her late husband’s tales of the attack.
Her husband, Johnnie Morris, served 22 years in the military, retiring as a chief petty officer. He died in 2005 after being injured in a vehicle crash.
Johnnie Morris, she said, retold the same stories of Dec. 7, 1941 to anyone who would ask.
“I never got tired of hearing them,” Retha Morris said.
Now she tells the stories for him.
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