Pearl Harbor survivors tell their stories at CVMD’s Remembrance Day

Pearl Harbor survivors (left to right) Charles Lishman (97), George Vandersluis (101) and Joe Quercia (95) sit up on stage to share their stories during Clovis Veterans Memorial District’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Dec. 7, 2017. (Daniel Leon/Clovis Roundup)

By Daniel Leon & Leticia Madrigal

To commemorate the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and honor the 2,403 service members and civilians who were lost on that tragic day, Clovis Veterans Memorial District invited a trio of Pearl Harbor survivors to speak at its Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 7 – 76 years after the attack.

“It is the duty of those living to never forget the tragedy that took place 76 years ago,” said Lorezo Rios, CEO of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District. “While so many of our WWII veterans pass away every day, and the cruel realities of 76 years ago may seem to many a distant reality, we as a nation must not forget their sacrifice as it is a reality that defines our character.”

The District invited Charles Lishman, George Vandersluis and Joe Quercia on stage, where they were met and interviewed by local sports broadcaster and Honor Flight co-founder, Paul Loeffler.

Up first was 97-year-old Lishman who served on the USS Perry was supposed to ship out for home on Dec. 8, 1941, but the Japanese attacks changed everything for him.

Lishman remembers the morning of the attacks, he was outside having breakfast when they saw the planes coming over them.

“It was strange, we thought it was manures … we were sitting out there talking and we see planes flying over the top of us and that’s when I yelled out,” Lishman said. “We didn’t have a gun, nothing, we started breaking in to get some guns or something, it was all we could do.”

“If anybody wanted to cry, that would be the time,” said Lishman.

Though Lishman was supposed to return home that year, he ended up surviving the end of the war and just three days after he was transferred out, the ship he was on sunk killing everyone abroad.

Lishma had some moving advice for those in attendance.

“Just remember Pearl Harbor, we don’t want to forget,” said Lishman. “Be alert, we’re in a bad situation right now, not necessarily someone attacking us with airplanes, but our government is really up against something now. We need to work together without going to war; war is bad.”

Next was Vandersluis, a 101-year-old Marine Corps veteran who was a guard on the USS Honolulu.

Being stationed on a cruiser near Battleship Row, Vandersluis got a close-up look of the action.

“I was anchored directly across from Battleship Row when the Japanese planes flew right over the top of us,” Vandersluis said. “It was kind of hard to believe. The minute we saw those big red meatballs [painted] on the planes, we knew who they were. They dipped low and their destination was right across the channel from us where the battleships were.”

Although Vandersluis’ crew absorbed a hit, they managed to prevail.

“It wasn’t a serious hit but it was still a little spooky, hard to believe,” he added.

Vandersluis remained with the Marine Corps for WWII and ended up in many significant battles in the Pacific, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.

“The outstanding [battle] was Iwo Jima,” he said. “That was the last encounter I had with them [the Japanese]. ”

Closing the ceremony was Quercia, a 95-year-old Fresno native and Navy veteran.

“I guess you guys saved the best for last,” Quercia joked.

Quercia enlisted in the Navy at 18 and served for six years before going to work for Pacific Gas & Electric for 36 years.

While in the military, he achieved the rank of chief petty officer and had three near-death experiences.

“You’re lucky that a person that was promised to die three times during WWII is still here,” he said to the crowd. “Two ships that I was on got sunk and I’m still here. Why does the good Lord keep me? I don’t know.”