Day that lives in infamy also lives in his memory
PHILADELPHIA — Alex Horanzy was fast asleep that fateful Sunday morning. The Army private had just finished a week of combat training on the northern end of Oahu and slipped into bed at 2 a.m. at the Schofield Barracks.
A few hours later, he woke to a nightmare: concussive bomb blasts and automatic gunfire from low-flying Japanese Zeros, smashing aircraft at adjacent Wheeler Army Airfield and Navy warships at nearby Pearl Harbor.
"You could see the pilots very plainly right at the rooftops, doing their dirty work," said the 91-year-old Horanzy, who grew up in Manayunk and now lives in Northeast Philadelphia. "We gave them a hard time as they came over," firing M-1 rifles and other weapons.
"I can't help thinking back to that time," he said. "It never goes away."
Dec. 7, 1941 — the date that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would "live in infamy" — changed the lives of millions, including Horanzy, who later fought the enemy across the Pacific. He is one of an ever-dwindling cadre of veterans in their 90s who witnessed the attack 72 years ago.
"Remember Pearl Harbor" became the rallying cry then, just as "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember the Maine" helped focus the country on other wars.
The same Sunday, Army veteran George Frazier, now 91, of Warminster, Bucks County, was driving an ammunition-laden truck across a bridge when it was strafed by a Zero. He was seriously wounded, and the medic next to him was killed instantly.
And Army Air Corps veteran Mario Chiarolanza, now 93, of Lafayette Hills, Montgomery County, was walking to church when enemy fire forced him to duck for cover. He ended up picking up the wounded, then trying to reclaim damaged aircraft.
Many of the veterans belonged to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association until it dissolved in 2011 due to the age and ill health of its then 2,700 members.
The group's legacy is carried on by the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors Inc., a 3,500-member nonprofit with chapters in 50 states and several countries.
Horanzy — president of the Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Association, the only organization of its kind in Pennsylvania — is expected to participate in ceremonies along with Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) at 10 a.m. Friday on the Battleship New Jersey in Camden.
He also plans to attend a Pearl Harbor event at noon Saturday at the Faith of Our Fathers Chapel at the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.
"I had just turned 17 when I went into the Army," Horanzy said. "I got my father to sign the papers in 1939 and made it to Pearl Harbor in 1940."
He enjoyed his new duty with the 24th Infantry Division. Hawaii was beautiful, the weather moderate. But the carefree days abruptly ended the following year during a typical bright, picture-perfect day.
Scores of P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk aircraft were sitting outside at Wheeler Army Airfield, instead of camouflaged revetments, where they would have been less vulnerable.
"It was like a turkey shoot," Horanzy said. "Most of our planes were destroyed, and there were heavy casualties.
"It was scary. We were the first ones hit and first ones to fight back."
During the attack, 18 ships were sunk or severely damaged, 140 aircraft were destroyed, and 3,400 casualties were reported, including 2,300 dead. The Japanese lost 29 planes and five midget submarines.
One of the enemy planes was brought down near Schofield Barracks and caught Horanzy's attention. By the time he got to it, the pilot was gone, but he "saw something red."
"It was a [Japanese] flag, and I took it and still have it with me today," said Horanzy, who married after the war, had three children, and retired as a quality assurance specialist for the Defense Department.
During the attack's first wave, Staff Sgt. George Frazier was heading to breakfast, heard explosions, and "wondered what the hell was going on."
"I went out to the quadrangle, a grassy area outside the barracks, and looked up to see planes circling and dropping lower," he said.
By the time the second wave of enemy planes struck, Frazier was driving the truck across a bridge when it was machine-gunned by a Japanese fighter.
The fire hit the medic next to him in the neck and struck him in the upper part of the left leg. "I grabbed my leg, and that was it," he said. "I later woke up in a hospital."
Frazier recovered in California, was discharged, then joined the Navy's Seabees. He later married a Germantown woman, had a daughter, and worked for a moving-van company until his retirement in 1994.
Among his comrades at Oahu was Mario Chiarolanza, an Army Air Corps corporal and airplane mechanic crew chief who was heading to church when the Japanese attacked.
"I laid on the ground," he said. "I didn't have a gun, and there was no use walking toward the planes" at Wheeler Airfield.
"When the raid was over, I reported to my commanding officer and was told to get the wounded off the field so they could be picked up by ambulances," he said. "It was very frightening."
After the second-wave attack, Chiarolanza was ordered "to patch up airplanes and get them flyable" and he "saw the smoke rising from Pearl Harbor." At the time, nobody was sure whether the Japanese were preparing a land invasion.
After the war, Chiarolanza worked as an engine rebuilder, mechanic, and tech-school instructor in Philadelphia, among other jobs. He married and had four children.
On the U.S. mainland, word of the Dec. 7 attack hit like a shock wave. Donald Dunn, now 80, of Turnersville, Gloucester County, was 8 years old — and on his way home from church — when he and his mother and two brothers got the news.
"People were yelling, 'The Japs are bombing Pearl Harbor,' " said Dunn, whose father, Lt. George Dunn, was serving aboard the aircraft carrier Lexington, stationed at Pearl Harbor.
"After a news blackout of about three weeks, we learned that our aircraft carriers were not" in port during the attack but delivering aircraft to Midway, he said. "Our dad was safe for the moment."
More than seven decades later, Dec. 7 still remains etched in memories of many families across the region.
"You always think about it," Alex Horanzy said.