Pearl Harbor survivor recalls the attack — a day that lived in infamy

Dec. 7 was called a date that would live in infamy — and 71 years later — its chilling memory remains etched in the minds of local survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was a normal, warm day in Hawaii for Walter Maciejowski, stationed a few miles away at the Schofield Barracks in Honolulu. The 20-year-old had made breakfast plans with some fellow soldiers before going to sleep, but a few hours later, Japanese planes would soar over Pearl Harbor, spreading a rain of destruction.

Awakened by the sound, he ran over to the balcony to see the rear field already ablaze and smoking.

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“All I could do was watch,” Maciejowski, now 91, said in a telephone interview from his home in Everett. “I wasn’t even in my outfit. Troops went to the roof with machine guns and started attacking the planes. I wouldn’t dare to go out.”

More than 2,400 Americans perished and hundreds more were wounded in the surprise attack — an event that catapulted the United States into World War II. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially declared war on Japan.

It’s difficult to estimate, but Maciejowski believes that there are at least 20 veterans left in the state and possibly more than 2,300 left nationally, but mentioned that no one knows for sure, since many don’t join the veterans’ organizations.

The Boston National Historical Park will host a memorial service on the bow of the USS Cassin Young, a World War II destroyerin the Charlestown Navy Yard at 12:30 p.m. Friday, said Sean Hennessey, spokesman for the National Park Service.

In attendance will be Francis M. Connolly, 91, of Quincy, a US Navy veteran and retired Boston police officer. Connolly was on the deck of the USS St. Louis in Pearl Harbor during the attack, and witnessed the explosion of the USS Arizona, which instantly killed most of its crew. Connolly served in the Navy from 1940 until 1946, earning the highest rank of Gunners Mate First Class, Hennessey said.

In Westfield, where Pearl Harbor survivor Robert A. Greenleaf, 90, resides, a small ceremony will be held by the Westfield Veterans Council and American Legion Post 124 in Wojtkiewicz Park near the Great River Bridge. The park is named for Chief Petty Officer Frank P. Wojtkiewicz, who died in the attack and was the first World War II casualty from Westfield, according to Bobby Callahan, director of veterans’ services.

Maciejowski, who enlisted in the military when he was 19, was discharged in July 1945, and earned three battle stars. Maciejowski later worked with a local Pearl Harbor survivors group until it disbanded a few years ago because of too few members.

Still, even as the days from his time in Honolulu pass, his memory remains clear. And Maciejowski said he hopes to see the 75th anniversary of the attack in 2016.

“As time passes, you say ‘Was I there? Did that happen?’” he said. “But it’s still there. You just sit back and reminisce.”