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Pearl Harbor veterans share lessons at Chicago Union League Club

John Terrell Lake Forest who was assigned USS Perry morning Pearl Harbor attack waits share his memories with UniLeague Club

John Terrell of Lake Forest, who was assigned to the USS Perry the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack, waits to share his memories with the Union League Club of Chicago on Wednesday, Dec. 4. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 3, 2014 3:44PM

Seventy-two years after he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, John Terrell of Lake Forest says there’s a reason he shares his story every December as a cautionary tale for the current and future generations.

“Never let your guard down and keep America alert — never let it be caught off guard again,” the 93-year-old Navy veteran said of the lessons he learned on Dec. 7, 1941.

In full agreement was Joseph Triolo of Waukegan, who served as a boatswain’s mate aboard the USS Tangier and manned a 50mm machine gun on the morning that would live in infamy.

The whole idea of speaking up at schools or civic events, Triolo said, “is to alert the young people that it could happen again in a different form. It all depends on what’s going on at the time.”

Triolo, who joined Terrell and fellow Pearl Harbor survivor James Lyle Hancock of Wheeling for a commemorative luncheon on Wednesday, Dec. 4, at the Union League Club of Chicago, underscored how the attacks took place on a Sunday morning that was deceptively normal.

“At Pearl, there were many signs that should have indicated that something was going on,” he said. “That morning, the (USS) Ward sunk the submarine at the entrance to the harbor — that was about six-o’-clock in the morning. Just think what the difference would be if we’d have been on our guns.

“See, when they attacked us,” the 92-year-old West Virginia native added, “the church pennant was at the yardarm, people were going to church and a third of the crew was ashore, people were in their bunks. No one knew what was happening and suddenly the attack was on. So that’s why it’s important to remember.”

Memories like these were handed down to a gathering of more than 100 people that included not only Union Club members, but active-duty military members with the 502nd Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, along with Navy ROTC members from Chicago’s Rickover Naval Academy School.

Also in attendance was Allen Lynch of Gurnee, a recipient of the Medal of Honor for combat service during the Vietnam War, who expressed his personal appreciation for sharing lunch with such a rare breed of fellow servicemen.

“I really am excited to be here, to be in the same room with three men who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. That’s an amazing thing,” said Lynch said, asking the audience to contemplate “a beautiful Sunday morning” in Hawaii that was shattered by the sounds of explosions that might have been mistaken for a drill.

“You look at some planes flying overhead (and) look at the markings on these planes, and you see a different marking than you’ve ever seen before, and suddenly, you realize that it’s not a drill. It’s real,” Lynch added. “Suddenly it hits you: your life will never be the same again. ... It all changed within a few moments in time.”

Hancock, who celebrates his 92nd birthday on Thursday, Dec. 5, illustrated that sense of confusion when he told the crowd he was shaving when the first bombs hit near the Navy Yard where he was stationed that morning.

“Nothing unusual dawned on me,” Hancock said. “While we’re standing there by my bunk, my bunkmate said to me (that) the Oklahoma was turning over. Well, a battle wagon turning over — how ridiculous can you get?”

But Hancock added that he quickly realized that his bunkmate spoke the truth and the harbor was under attack, saying that, after it was over, everything he saw “was completely obliterated, because we weren’t expecting a problem. ... We were just sitting there, the attack came and went, and what was left was chaos.”

At the end of the hourlong program, Terrell was asked to lend some advice to the ROTC members in attendance as they consider a career in the 21st-century military.

“You have a real important duty ahead of you,” he said, “and I know you will do it well. I have utmost confidence in the present, active military service personnel. There is nobody who can do it better than you guys.

“So don’t let us down,” Terrell added. “Remember Pearl Harbor and be prepared.”

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