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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Widow, family members remember attack on Pearl Harbor amid COVID-19 restrictions

Only a half-dozen people huddled in the cold Sunday afternoon in downtown Spokane to remember the attack on Pearl Harbor, but that was by design.

The coronavirus pandemic shrunk war widow Vina Mikkelsen’s usual plans of a lunch and Spokane Transit Authority bus ride to a memorial dedicated at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. But the observance still included a salutation from Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and the playing of “Taps.”

“We have to do it,” Mikkelsen, now in her late 80s, said from behind her mask. “We can’t let it go.”

For years, Mikkelsen has been organizing a remembrance in honor of her late husband, Denis, who was a Navy radioman on the USS West Virginia. The couple later became involved in the Lilac City chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a national group that disbanded in 2011. At the time, there were about 2,700 active members.

The number of servicemen who survived the Japanese attack 79 years ago is dwindling. One of the final three known surviving members of the crew of the USS Arizona, Donald Stratton, died in 2020. The battleship remains at the bottom of the harbor in Hawaii as part of a memorial to the 2,403 people who died in the attack.

Ray Garland, the last of the known Pearl Harbor service members in the Inland Northwest, died in 2019 at age 96.

Brian Newberry, the former commander at Fairchild Air Force Base, asked the group to remember Garland, as well as those who have lost their lives during the pandemic, in remarks prior to the laying of wreaths.

“This year, more than ever, I credit Vina for reminding us that we can never forget,” said Newberry, who was contacted by Mikkelsen earlier this week to confirm that he’d be able to say some remarks Sunday afternoon. “Certainly, this is a year we can never forget those who’ve lost their lives and whose lives have been changed. We have to stay strong, that’s what America is.”

Woodward read a salutation that she gave to Mikkelsen, and then squeezed her shoulder after thanking her for her dedication.

Mikkelsen said she appreciated the mayor showing up on short notice. In the past few days, her thoughts have been on her husband, who died in 2013, and though her eyesight is failing, she said she’d been thinking about the images her husband shared with her of that deadly day in Hawaii that launched America’s involvement in World War II.

“I can remember when he got off that ship, the water was coming in,” she said. “When he got off, he had to swim ashore. There was blood and oil and everything in the water, and he said he had to swim through that.”

The memorial is open for public viewing on the southeastern edge of the arena’s campus, where Mallon Avenue meets Howard Street.