The death this year of the Inland Northwest’s final member of a national group of Pearl Harbor survivors won’t stop the annual, local commemoration of the attack that launched U.S. involvement in World War II.
“I think it’ll be just like it always is,” said Vina Mikkelsen, 88, who for years has organized a remembrance of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on behalf of her husband, Denis, a U.S. Navy radioman who survived the day and died in 2013. The attack killed 2,403 people.
Ray Garland was the final living serviceman in the Inland Northwest present during the Japanese attack who had also been a member of the Lilac City chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Garland died in April at age 96.
At one point, the number of survivors of the attack who were living in Spokane and North Idaho and were members of the survivors group numbered closer to 100. The veterans would travel to local schools, churches and bookstores on the anniversary of the attack to talk to students about their memories.
Saturday will mark the fifth time Mikkelsen will hold a luncheon at the Harvard Park retirement community on Spokane’s South Hill to honor her husband, who served on the battleship West Virginia, Garland and others.
Mikkelsen is working with Carol Hipperson, a local author and historian, to show photographs of service members who were present for the attacks and later became members of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors club, as well as their spouses.
Hipperson collected the photos through her years chronicling the stories of the survivors, culminating in the book “Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific,” published in 2008. It tells the story of Ray Daves, one of the association’s members who survived the attack on the USS Yorktown.
“It’s an important date to those of that generation,” Hipperson said. “It’s important to the rest of them, too.”
Among those in the photos are Daves, the Mikkelsens, Garland and his widow, Beverly, as well as Warren and Betty Schott, who both lived on Ford Island, the center of the Japanese attack on that December morning.
“I saw the red balls on the wings of the plane,” Warren Schott told The Spokesman-Review in a 2007 interview. “I watched that plane torpedo the USS Utah. I said, ‘Betty, we’re at war!’ ”
Warren Schott died in May 2014 at age 96. Betty Schott died a year later, at 98.
Mikkelsen said it was important not only to remember the men who served, but the families who supported them.
“I was in the military with my husband for 15 years,” Mikkelsen said. “We forget to thank the wives, and we should.”
Mikkelsen has written her own poem that has been set to music. Titled “Your Return,” the poem is written from the point of view of a military wife, waiting in prayer for the return of her beloved.
Following the lunch at Harvard Park, those assembled will travel once again to the memorial to Pearl Harbor outside the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, which was dedicated in 2014. A ceremony is scheduled to begin at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The traditional Hawaiian leis will include a black ribbon in recognition of the lives of all the survivors now gone.
It’s a ritual Mikkelsen said she doesn’t think will change anytime soon.
“When Ray Garland died, I thought that would be the end of it,” she said. “I think it’s something that I have to do because of my husband.”
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