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Pearl Harbor veterans honored at ceremony

Charleston, W.Va.  -- Wetzel Sanders was sleeping at Barbers Point 72 years ago when Japan attacked the U.S. Naval base at nearby Pearl Harbor. Sanders drove the leave truck on Saturday nights, picking up soldiers that were in Honolulu.

"I was going to sleep Sunday morning," Sanders said. "And I hear all this explosion going off so I got up and they were starting to bomb Pearl Harbor."

Sanders was one of two West Virginia Pearl Harbor survivors honored during the American Legion's National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Ceremony on Saturday afternoon in downtown Charleston.

People surrounded the veterans' memorial at the intersection of Lee and Capitol Street. The Winfield American Legion performed the posting of the colors, a 21-gun salute and played Taps.

Beside an empty chair marked to remember prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, Sanders, 90, joined Army Ranger Ken Boggs for the Laying of the Wreath in front of the memorial's statue.

Sanders remembered that Sunday morning, how he got his gun and he and other soldiers got into trucks to head to Pearl Harbor.

"They strafed us about three times on the way into Pearl," Sanders said. "When I got into Pearl Harbor I had seven holes shot into my truck."

After about 20 minutes of trying to shoot down Japanese planes, Sanders said they ran out of ammunition. He went along with a few other soldiers to find more.

"After, we went down to the water and helped get a lot of them out," Sanders said. "They had all the dead stacked in the hospital yard. It was a sight I'll never forget."

After the attack, Sanders' service duty took him to Fuji for infantry training. He then went to the battle of Guadalcanal and the invasion of Bougainville.

He was stationed overseas for more than four years. Later he would serve his country again, joining the Marines.

"It was some pretty rough times," Sanders said. "I think the Lord was with all the time."

He believes the annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is a good thing. He used to go around to area high schools with other veterans to talk about the event.

"You know, people don't know anything about Pearl Harbor."

Chester McNeely was in the Schofield Barracks when the bombing began.

"It was a mess there for a while," McNeely said. "They bombed us and we didn't know what was going on."

McNeely, 91, served more than four years traveling to New Genie, the Philippine Islands and elsewhere for military duty.

McNeely enjoys the annual ceremony that brings back old memories.  

Both veterans hope to see the ceremony continue.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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