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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pearl Harbor survivors embrace teen

Boy learns about WWII from those who served

Isaac Liljenberg shares lunch with members of the Lilac Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association at Shriner’s Hospital on Saturday. (Dan Pelle)
Isaac Liljenberg shares lunch with members of the Lilac Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association at Shriner’s Hospital on Saturday. (Dan Pelle)

When Isaac Liljenberg came across his brother’s collection of videos about World War II, it sparked an interest in him about those who had served

“I wanted to meet a World War II vet,” said the 16-year-old. “I wanted to interview some people.”

A friend mentioned Ray Daves because the air traffic control tower at Spokane International Airport had been recently named for him.

Liljenberg, who is homeschooled, hoped to meet Daves, but Daves died before he had the chance.

He decided to attend Daves’ memorial service. Afterward, he spotted a group of Pearl Harbor survivors at a table. He introduced himself, offered his condolences and explained his interest in World War II.

Carol Hipperson, author of Daves’ biography, “Radioman,” invited the teen to attend the monthly meeting of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

That was two years ago and Liljenberg hasn’t missed a meeting since. On Saturday, he was greeted warmly by group members at Shriners Hospital.

Betty Schott, 96, was with her husband, Warren, a Navy sailor, on Ford Island when the first bombs fell on Dec. 7, 1941. She said, “Isaac is our favorite boy. He’s just so giving and extremely helpful.”

Helpful, because his involvement with the Pearl Harbor survivors isn’t limited to leading the Pledge of Allegiance at the monthly meeting. Hipperson said, “Isaac and his father, deputy sheriff Terry Liljenberg, are among the few that I depend on for the survivors’ transportation and security whenever they appear at special events in the community.”

Indeed, both of Isaac’s parents attended the Saturday meeting. His mother, Vicky, said she can trace his patriotism to a young age. “As a little boy whenever we drove by an American flag, he’d see it and point and get really excited.”

Hipperson said Isaac’s interest isn’t that unusual, but the way that he’s pursued it is. “In every high school history class I’ve ever taught, there was always at least one teenager – usually a boy – who was completely fascinated by World War II. Isaac is one of those. Some collect and read every book they can find in the school library. Isaac prefers to get it from the horse’s mouth.”

The reason? Liljenberg said, “I’ve learned a lot more about Pearl Harbor by listening to them (the survivors). More than I could learn from a book.”

Pearl Harbor survivor Charlie Boyer, 92, said, “He asks searching questions. He’s got a good brain. I like him.”

He’s gotten attached to the members of the group and took the recent passing of Denis Mikkelsen hard. “I miss him more and more,” he said. Mikkelsen, who died March 30, was aboard the USS West Virginia when the attack on Pearl Harbor began. Liljenberg enjoyed sipping coffee with Denis and his wife, Vina, at the meetings and listening to their stories.

In addition to attending meetings and helping with transportation, when the teen heard the group’s coffers were diminishing, he donated $50. His parents matched his gift.

Through his connection to the group he met Tony Lamanna, director of Inland Northwest Honor Flight and hopes to one day accompany veterans on an Honor Flight.

Liljenberg searched for words to explain what his relationship with this small band of Pearl Harbor survivors means to him. “I really just like to be around them.”

He paraphrases his favorite quote this way: “They gave their tomorrows for my today.”

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