LORAIN — Lewis Buttitta, a 16-year-old from Lorain, was shocked when he heard about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
He sat glued to the radio and millions of American’s listened to the event that changed national and world history. Butitta, now 93, recalled his time serving in the military after Pearl Harbor, and the impact of that day that affected everyone around him.
The first of two waves of Japanese naval aviation forces attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Dec. 7, 1941, at 12:53 p.m. eastern time, with the goal of crippling the U.S. fleet and capturing the Philippines and Indochina. As a result of the attack, 2,403 people died and 1,178 were wounded.
On the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation reviews the scars left on such an infamous day that thrust the nation into World War II and became the deciding factor in the Allies’ victory. It also built America as the leading superpower of the world.
At the time Buttitta was livid that Saburo Kurusu, then-Japanese diplomat to the U.S., had worked with then-U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull with peace talks between the two nations. On the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, as Hull awaited Kurusu’s reply, Kurusu left a message officially breaking off peace talks and ties with the U.S. Buttitta found that the most disrespectful, and even now it makes him emotional.
“When I think about it now, all these people who died,” he said as his words trailed off, his voice cracking, nearly on the verge of breaking down. “It’s a damn shame what they did to us, and I’ll never forget that.”
As soon as he was old enough to enlist, Buttitta went into the military and joined the U.S. Army Air Corp. After his training he became a radar operator stationed, oddly enough, at Pearl Harbor in 1943. There he worked until the end of the war at the highest point on the island of Oahu, checking for possible enemy craft approaching the islands. It was a tense job working as the lookout for one of the only parts of the U.S. touched by the enemy. Most times it was quiet, but Buttitta remembered some close calls of picking up something on the radar, only to learn it was a false alarm while the planes were in the air.
As the Greatest Generation’s numbers decrease every year as more die, much can be lost through time. One day, teenagers who lived through the attack on the World Trade Center buildings Sept. 11, 2001, will be in his position, recounting their feelings on that day.
As one of the remaining Americans who witnessed two major foreign attacks on American soil, he added a warning to keep America strong and stay vigilant for attack. Buttitta also said the most important message he could leave for the future is to have true peace.
“Once and for all, all the time, not to go to bed and be afraid you’re going to be bombed,” he said.
Dec. 7, 1941, is a day that has and will live on in infamy, but Buttitta and others who lived through that day know the importance of learning from it.