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71 years later — North Coast survivors share view U.S. must be ever watchful

Larry Petretti is a rare bird, on a couple of counts.

He's 89 and still working as a real estate broker in Santa Rosa. And he's one of precious few people alive who truly remembers Pearl Harbor, who was there, in uniform and on the water throughout the attack that changed the nation and the world.

Petretti didn't have to ponder long when asked what he hopes younger Americans and future generations will value about Pearl Harbor.

"It's all the young guys who gave their lives, got burned to death," said the Navy veteran. He was 18 years, four months old and a bosun's mate aboard the moored repair ship USS Whitney the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

"We didn't have the first idea what war was," he said. But war came anyway, dealt by surprise by 353 Japanese bombers, fighters and torpedo planes.

Not long into what had dawned as yet another glowing Hawaiian morning, Petretti was hauling dead or horribly wounded young sailors into a motor launch.

"I hope they're never forgotten," he said, "even when the last of the Pearl Harbor survivors are dead, which won't be long."

No one knows for sure how many of the 84,000 former GIs who were stationed on or near the island of Oahu that morning 71 years ago are still alive. But there aren't more than a few thousand; fewer than six are likely to be present for the public observance at 9 a.m. today at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.

Not all Pearl veterans are of the same mind regarding what the lasting legacy or lesson of America's most momentous military disaster should be.

Sonoma Valley resident Malcolm Moisan, who served aboard the same repair ship as Petretti, agrees with the motto of the now-disbanded Pearl Harbor Survivors Association: "Remember Pearl Harbor, Keep America Alert!"

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