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‘Lives forever changed’: Ceremony honors 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 7, 2021

Vina Mikkelsen engages Fairchild Air Force Base Honor Guard member Senior Airman Cooper Croughan after a ceremony honoring the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, Tuesday at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Mikkelsen was the wife of Pearl Harbor survivor Denis Mikkelsen, a U.S. Navy radioman assigned to the USS West Virginia that was hit with torpedoes. He died in 2013. Croughan carried the Navy flag during the ceremony.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Vina Mikkelsen engages Fairchild Air Force Base Honor Guard member Senior Airman Cooper Croughan after a ceremony honoring the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, Tuesday at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Mikkelsen was the wife of Pearl Harbor survivor Denis Mikkelsen, a U.S. Navy radioman assigned to the USS West Virginia that was hit with torpedoes. He died in 2013. Croughan carried the Navy flag during the ceremony. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Bob Snider was 8 years old in Hawaii the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. His parents, one of whom was an airplane mechanic for the U.S. military, were still in bed when Snider noticed columns of smoke rising across the water.

He would later learn the smoke was coming from the explosions at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu that marked the United States’ entrance into World War II. The Japanese government’s Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched an aerial attack early that morning against the U.S. Navy base, killing about 2,400 people, including thousands of military service members and 68 civilians.

A bullet penetrated Snider’s childhood home on Oahu and narrowly missed his father, Snider said. Shrapnel from the explosions landed on their neighbor’s roof.

Snider attended an annual Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony Tuesday morning in front of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, which saw community leaders and military veterans speaking on the importance of remembering that fateful morning.

“I’m glad to hear other people hear this story,” Snider said. “And yes, I was very, very scared. After the bullet missed Father by 3 feet in our house, Mother and I lost it.”

Snider has attended the Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremony held in Riverfront Park for several years in a row. The event is hosted in part by Vina Mikkelsen, whose late husband, Denis Mikkelsen, was a Pearl Harbor veteran.

Brian Newberry, a veteran and member of the Lilac City chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said to the crowd gathered around the Pearl Harbor memorial wreath that the event was to remember the services of those who lost their lives that day.

“We honor all those we lost on that sleepy and tropical Hawaiian morning,” Newberry said. “In total, the 2,403 Americans were the first (American) casualties of the largest conflict the world would ever see. Vina, our dignitary here today and spouse of Pearl Harbor survivor Denis Mikkelsen, always faithfully rallies us together.”

Vina Mikkelsen was the first to adorn the wreath with a lei in honor of the veterans and her husband.

“There’s just something in me that says I’ve got to do this as long as I can,” Vina Mikkelsen told Th e Spokesman-Review last month.

The Pearl Harbor tragedy was officially recorded at 9:55 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, Newberry said. Newberry led a moment of silence at exactly that time Tuesday morning.

Veterans, as well as children of World War II veterans, bowed their heads. They then stepped forward to adorn the memorial wreath with their own leis.

Ray Garland, the last area serviceman who survived Pearl Harbor, died in 2019.

“It is so apropo for the nobility of this country that we will never give up trying to give peace to family members who lose their loved ones giving their all,” Newberry said.

On behalf of Mayor Nadine Woodward, Brian Coddington spoke on the importance of recognizing Dec. 7 as a significant day in history.

“The city of Spokane joins our nation in honoring those whose lives were forever changed that December morning and resolve to uphold the legacy of all who stepped forward during our nation’s time of need,” Coddington said.

Ivan Urnovitz, a longtime member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said he never served in the military but has attended these memorials for at least 20 years.

“I really took to heart the ‘never forget,’ ” Urnovitz said. “So it’s here to honor (Vina Mikkelson) and honor the other Pearl Harbor survivors, and I knew to try to keep this tradition going as long as you can.”

The event this year held special meaning, Urnovitz said. Each year, fewer surviving witnesses of the event are around to offer their perspective.

“It’s old history, and it’s sad to be old history because we are who we are because of history that goes way back. So it’s sad if nobody knows,” said Snider, now 88.

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