Kerr told the Rome audience — heavily sprinkled with veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Korea — that he tells his story of the events at Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, in an effort to renew a sense of pride in the United States of America.
“It’s vitally and virtually important that this bit of history be relayed on to our children and our grandchildren,” Kerr said.
On a visit with Coweta County seventh-graders, he said, the teacher told students he would be speaking about Pearl Harbor and one student asked, “Who was she?”
Kerr, 92, expressed a degree of sadness when he told the crowd at the footsteps of the Tomb of the Known Soldier, Charles Graves, that the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association was disbanded last December. He said fewer than 2,000 survivors remain from the attack almost 71 years ago that killed 2,403 military personnel.
“A high price was paid for freedom on that one particular day,” Kerr said.
He almost lost his life on that morning, but he was bent over retrieving a duty roster from a safe when a Japanese Zero strafed his barracks, killing a sergeant who was standing right next to Kerr. He said had been preparing to go to church that morning when the first bomb was dropped at 7:55 a.m.
Kerr told the Rome crowd that, in his opinion, if the U.S. had paid attention to three events prior to the Japanese raid, history might have been written differently.
A little more than an hour before the first bombs were dropped, the U.S.S. Ward, a destroyer, was coming in from a night mission and noticed a submarine at the channel leading into Pearl Harbor. Finding out its origin could have sparked an alert.
“They were told there were no submarines in the area so they just sunk it,” Kerr said. “In 2002 they resurrected that submarine and it was a Japanese submarine.”
Later on that morning, a radar technician noticed a lot of blips on his radar screen. Kerr said the technician was told they were 12 B-17s coming in from California, and that also was ignored.
“He said there are more than 12 blips on this machine and said they said check the batteries,” Kerr related.
The biggest thing he was concerned about was that on Dec. 4, every unit was called out on an alert — put on the ready for battle.
“On Saturday, the 6th of December, 1941, someone, somebody, we don’t know who, called off that alert,” Kerr said. “If they had still been on alert, it would have been a different battle.”
Following the attack, the former company clerk said he got behind the wheel of a two-and-a-half-ton truck, carrying the sick and wounded for help.
“I had never been behind the steering wheel of a truck that size before,” Kerr said.
Kerr concluded his speech by reminding the audience, “Remember Pearl Harbor, keep America alert, God bless America.”
Among the large crowd at the Myrtle Hill Cemetery was Dezie Lerner, an Estonian who left her native land at the age of 5 in 1944. She was visiting with Rome residents Bruce and Aurora Behner and wanted to pay tribute to American veterans, particularly those who served in World War II.
“Estonia is in such a strategic location, the reason is they wanted a seaport on the Baltic Sea which did not freeze in the winter,” Lerner said. “Out of 800 years, we’ve only been free for 40 years. If it weren’t for the American military winning World War II, there would not have been an Estonia as it is today. This impressive ceremony is a very important ceremony.”
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