By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
It’s traditional for Mercer County’s Catholic War Veterans to gather the Sunday closest to Dec. 7, the date which, 76 years later, still lives in infamy.
So it was that on Dec. 3, scores of veterans and their families, members of various veterans’ organizations, officials and the community at-large gathered in Holy Cross Post 417, Trenton. There, with solemn ceremony, prayer and fellowship, they paid tribute to the more than 2,400 military personnel and civilians who perished in the 1941 pre-dawn raid by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii.
Wreaths were placed at the post’s flag pole memorializing the attack, which opened the door to America’s entry into World War II. A salute fired by the Marine Corps League and the echo of “Taps” brought a host of emotions to the surface, post Commander Raymond Szul said.
Szul – a member of Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, who worships in Holy Cross Church – has helped organize the memorial event for years. He recalled the days when more than 400 veterans filled the ranks of the Holy Cross chapter.
“At one time, we were the largest Catholic War Veterans in the country,” he said. These days, he noted, about 115 veterans fill the ranks with about 85 members in the auxiliary.
Though the numbers may be smaller, the Navy veteran said the spirit reflected by those who attend remains as strong as ever.
“This memorial has been going on for 35 years,” he said. “All the branches of the service come – Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard.”
Among their ranks this year was 101-year-old Nicholas Chomicki, a Navy veteran and survivor of Pearl Harbor whose presence, Szul said, added to the importance of the day.
The Catholic War Veterans are traditionally joined for the event by members of the Disabled American and Jewish War Veterans of all generations, said Szul, who joined the Catholic War Veterans in 1957 and has served as post commander for 25 years.
They come because “it’s important to keep alive the memory of what happened that December morning in 1941. It’s important to keep it going so that young people don’t forget,” Szul said.
Instrumental in keeping that memory alive are the annual presentations by Capt. Stanley Winowicz Jr., U.S. Navy Reserve, who has researched and shared insights on Pearl Harbor at the commemoration for 25 years. Winowicz, whose first presentation was made on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, said he searches out different facts about the attack every year in order to broaden the perspective to today’s times and include topics such as the War on Terror and Sept. 11, 2001 – “a day of infamy for new generations.”
Winowicz, who also worships in Holy Cross Church, said he takes these teaching moments seriously.
“If we forget, that’s how we lose customs and traditions,” he said. “If you lose those customs, whether it is Pearl Harbor or World War I or the global War on Terrorism, you’re forgetting those who gave up everything so you could have freedom.”