At one moment during the 70th anniversary Pearl Harbor remembrance Wednesday in Santa Rosa, 89-year-old Jesse Love struggled to his feet while preparing to state his name and tell where he'd been at the time of the 1941 attack that shocked Americans and drew them into World War II.
Love was an officers' cook at the harbor's Ford Island Naval Air Station. But before the longtime Santa Rosan could say that at the breakfast and commemoration at the Veterans Memorial Building, the more than 300 people in the audience stood and applauded him.
Their ovation, long and spirited, brought Love to tears. As he awaited the return of his composure, the ceremony's emcee, fellow Pearl survivor Herb Louden, 94, of Petaluma spoke for him.
"Thank you," Louden said. "He deserves it all."
The crowd that spilled out the doors of the large meeting hall was well aware that time is running short to meet, hear and acknowledge the aged veterans of one of the most jarring and significant military events in U.S. history. The audience also heaped ovations on Louden and the other two Pearl Harbor survivors present, Ed McDougall, 90, and Larry Petretti, 88, both of Santa Rosa.
The tribute astounded Petretti, who 70 years earlier rushed to his battle station aboard the destroyer tender USS Whitney.
"I'll never forget it," he said of the ceremony. "Those people were so great, I can't believe it. The place was packed."
There are a few other surviving Pearl vets in Sonoma County, but they weren't up to making the observance. Most conspicuously absent was former submariner and schoolteacher Frank Sennello, 90, a stalwart of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association chapter and chairman of Wednesday's event.
He was still refining plans when he fell ill with pneumonia on Tuesday night and went by ambulance to Memorial Hospital. He said Wednesday he expects to be back home in a couple of days.
"We're sorry Frank's in the hospital," Louden, who'd been a pharmacist's mate aboard the hospital ship Solace, told the crowd.
The keynote speaker, Coast Guard Capt. R. Erin Brogan, new commander of the Two Rock training center near Petaluma, noted that advanced age has caused officers of the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association to disband the organization effective the last day of the year.
"In light of that, I believe it is important that we reassure all Pearl Harbor survivors that we will never forget," Brogan said.
"We need to remember Pearl Harbor because all generations of Americans should be involved in the exploration and discovery of their history. We need to remember Pearl Harbor because in a few years the attack will no longer be included in the annals of living memory."
Though their national organization is dissolving, Louden and Love and other members of the local group, Chapter 23, have resolved that to the last man they'll keep meeting monthly and striving to keep the lessons of Pearl Harbor alive.