On Dec. 7, students and JROTC cadets gathered at the school's flagpole for a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony
DR. PHILLIPS More than 200 cadets stood at attention and saluted as the American Flag was raised to half staff.
It was a moment of reflection, of remembrance.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dr. Phillips High School held a ceremony on Dec. 7 at the school’s flagpole.
“It’s a day to remember what happened,” said Emanuel Noboa, one of the 200 Air Force JROTC cadets.
For the everyone who attended, the ceremony was a poignant reminder of the more than 2,000 Americans who were killed that day.
“Pearl Harbor was their Sept. 11,” said retired Lt. Col. Rick Proctor, the senior teacher for the school’s JROTC program. “They have to realize that Pearl Harbor was the same thing in 1941 as Sept. 11 was in 2001, 60 years later. That’s what I’m hoping (the students) get out of it - that it’s happened before, and they have grandparents who experienced it or survived it.”
Just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, more than 300 Japanese planes attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The attack lasted about one-and-one-half hours. Eight battleships, three cruisers and three destroyers were either sunk or damaged in the attack, including the USS Arizona, which still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
In addition to the more than 2,000 men and women who were killed, another estimated 1,000 Americans were wounded during the attack.
To bring the history of Pearl Harbor to life, Proctor invited Winter Park resident retired Lt. Col. Richard Ortega to share his experience of World War II.
“America has never forgotten the destruction the Japanese brought to America that day,” Ortega said during the ceremony.
During the morning of the attack, Ortega was in church clueless as to what was happening in Hawaii.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” Ortega said.
It wasn’t until later that evening, around 5 or 6 p.m., that Ortega and his family finally heard the news.
“I remember distinctly, we were having dinner when my Aunt Mary came over and said, ‘We’re at war,’” he said. “So we all piled up and listened to the radio. We had eight or 10 people there listening to Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York, talking.”
The news hardly seemed real, Ortega recalled. Then La Guardia requested that all young men who were 18 years old and older to report to their high school the next morning to enlist in military.
“The morning of December the 8th - the south ferry where the Twin Towers were was wall-to-wall men joining the Navy and Army,” Ortega said.
Ortega himself enlisted in the Army on Jan. 2, 1942. He reported to boot camp that summer after graduating high school.
Two summers later, he found himself on Omaha Beach on D-Day fighting back German soldiers. He attributes his survival to the air support that helped keep the Germans distracted.
For the students and cadets who attended the ceremony, hearing Ortega’s story made the story of Pearl Harbor more real.
“It’s history,” said Shannon Brown. “But it (has) to be reviewed so we don’t make the same mistakes twice. Hearing about it and learning about, it is so intriguing. It’s sad to know it did happen. We still mourn, but I’m glad to support those of the fallen.”
In addition to the more than 200 JROTC cadets who attended the ceremony, dozens of students lined the sidewalk.
“I hope they all got something out of it,” Proctor said.
After the ceremony, cadet Chelsea Corredor said it was nice to pause and remember Pearl Harbor.
“It’s a reflection of how many people died that day,” she said.
Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].