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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘He fought that war until the day he died’: Spokane survivors commemorate 82nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack

Vina Mikkelsen, widow of Pearl Harbor survivor Denis Mikkelsen, listens to a speech during the memorial ceremony at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena in 2023 to honor those who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

A small crowd gathered outside the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena Thursday to commemorate the 82nd anniversary of the Japanese military’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The assault killed 2,403 Americans, including 68 civilians, and pushed the country to join World War II. Thousands who survived would carry the memory with them for the rest of their lives, including Denis Mikkelsen, who was a Navy radioman on the USS West Virginia. Mikkelsen died in 2013, a member of a dwindling fraternity of service members who numbered roughly 87,000 on the day of the attack on the island of Oahu.

Mikkelsen awoke that morning to shouts and sirens aboard the battleship, which later sank from torpedo damage. Mikkelsen abandoned ship and swam to shore after trying to prevent the rushing water from sinking the West Virginia, but was later ordered to return to put out fires, he told The Spokesman-Review in 2007.

Eighty-two years later, his wife, Vina Mikkelsen, 92, still works to ensure the “date which will live in infamy” is never forgotten, working each year to organize an annual remembrance.

“He fought that war until the day he died,” Vina Mikkelsen said Thursday. “At nighttime, always fighting.”

Thursday’s ceremony was presented by Brian Newberry, the former commander of Fairchild Air Force Base and chief executive of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. Vina Mikkelsen has recruited him over the years to help keep the memory of Dec. 7, 1941, alive.

“We’re here for Vina,” Newberry said during the ceremony. “Today, we stand here resolute in the face of multiple crises around the world, to remember the greatest generation, who alone had the grit to realize America’s true potential to be a city on the hill whose light will not be hid.”

A resolution from Mayor Nadine Woodward, which declared Thursday as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, encouraged citizens “to observe the solemn day of remembrance and to honor our brave military men and women who have fought and sacrificed for our freedom.”

Bob Snider, who was also in attendance, was 8 years old when the bombs dropped. He was in third grade, and his father worked as an Army mechanic at Hickham Field. The Japanese military attacked that installation, too, hoping to prevent an American aerial counterattack.

Snider’s dad narrowly missed the assault as he rushed to work that December morning. Snider’s father ordered him and his mom to hide under piled up mattresses in the family home and not come out until it was quiet, he told The Spokesman-Review in 2022.

Newberry has been serving as host of the remembrance for the past several years. The honor guard from Fairchild Air Force Base once again attended with the colors, and a bugler played “Taps” after Newberry read off the names of members of the Lilac Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, all of whom have died – most recently Ray Garland, a Marine who died in April 2019 at age 96.

As the bugler played his final notes, a stiff wind blew in, lifting the service flags borne by the honor guard, including all those flown the day of the attack.