Local vet among dwindling number of Pearl Harbor survivors

| December 7, 2010 | 0 Comments
By Bob Kalinowski / Staff Writer
Published: December 7, 2010 via The Citizens’ Voice

LUZERNE – Over the years, Pearl Harbor survivor Walter Yablonski enjoyed meeting and befriending others who experienced the attack that propelled the United States into World War II.

As the decades passed, the fraternity dwindled.

Yablonski is now among the last left.

The 90-year-old from Luzerne Borough is one of the few Pearl Harbor survivors, if not the only, remaining in the Wyoming Valley.

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared “will live in infamy.”

Of the 60,000 U.S. military personnel at Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, about 3,000 are still alive, according to estimates.

“All I know is we got bombed. I just got done with eating breakfast,” Yablonski recalled Monday. “I seen a lot of smoke. They started hollering that we got bombed by the Japanese.”

As one of the Japanese planes passed by at low altitude, Yablonski made eye contact with the enemy pilot. Planes continued to attack U.S. ships in the harbor.

“It was pretty close. I opened the door (of the barracks) and, Jesus, the smoke, was sky high,” Yablonski recalled. “They wanted to get the ships because there were a lot in the harbor. The Arizona got the worst.”

Yablonski was in the second year of a six-year commitment to the Army at the time of the attack. He was at Schofield Barracks, several hundred yards from the most severe of the bombings.

While he wasn’t injured, he said the attack was scary to a 21-year-old who never experienced war and its deadly toll.

“I’m lucky to be alive. If they would have invaded, I’d be dead,” Yablonski said.

Yablonski said he was just glad he could continue to serve his country until the war was over.

“We all won the war. We helped, in other words,” he said.

After being discharged from the Army, Yablonski was an area coal miner for 12 years. He later owned and operated a gas station in Luzerne for nearly three decades until retirement. During that time, he was a member of Luzerne Borough Council and then mayor for 12 years.

Yablonski has three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

After a brief recent stint in a nursing home, he is living with his daughter, Linda, and son-in-law in Luzerne.

Yablonski’s son-in-law, John Yarmel, said Yablonski always sought to find other Pearl Harbor survivors, locally and national, to speak about their common bond in world history. Yablonski would even plan vacations around such meetings, Yarmel said.

It came to a point, though, most of Yablonski’s Pearl Harbor buddies passed away or it was too difficult to stay in touch.

“The guys are dying off. They were close for like 20 years. It was a very close-knit group, but there’s no one left around here,” Yarmel said. “When he meets with people, he always brings it up. He says ‘I was at Pearl Harbor.'”

bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2055

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