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Revisiting Pearl Harbor
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim’s Jean and Bob Cummings have just returned from the trip of a lifetime.
Sam Hackenberger’s lifetime.
Hackenberger, Jean’s dad, accompanied the two and was a guest of honor at an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Hackenberger, who served in the Navy Seabees, was stationed in Hawaii both before and after Dec. 7, 1941, the date which lives in infamy.
Their timing was excellent. Jean said just 23 survivors of the original attack were able to attend the 70th anniversary ceremonies. Because they are dying off so quickly, the 2011 commemoration likely will be the last of its kind, she said.
Hackenberger had a great time, enjoying one week on Maui and another in Waikiki.
The Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies were particularly memorable. Jean “made arrangements for it,” Hackenberger said. “We got special parking and special seating ... and a personal escort most everywhere we went.”
“I don’t deserve all this,” Hackenberger said.
On the record
That’s highly debatable; Hackenberger’s service record is impressive. He entered the Valley Forge Military Academy in 1928 as a member of the first class, but left his junior year because of the Great Depression. He joined the Army in 1932 and studied communications for three years at West Point, after which he was put on inactive reserve.
Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor he joined the Navy. Why the Navy? “I didn’t want to sleep in the mud,” he laughed. “As it turned out we slept in the mud anyway.”
The life of a journeyman electrician in the Pacific wasn’t all about wiring. Hackenberger often was among the first men to make landfall in an island invasion — and sometimes he arrived before the invasion forces.
He laughed, saying when the Marines arrived on Roto (in the Cook Islands) they found a big sign awaiting them. “Welcome, Marines,” it read.
“We invaded the island before they arrived. Oh, they were shook up,” he laughed.
Hackenberger was an island hopper, helping build runways and other projects throughout the Pacific, including the headquarters Admiral Chester Nimitz established on Guam.
Jean said proudly, “He was wounded in his own way.”
Hackenberger explained: “I got hit in the snoot with a doggone Japanese rifle butt. We were doing a cave closing and they rushed us. If I’d kept my mouth shut, I’d probably have been all right.”
Hackenberger didn’t receive a Purple Heart for having his teeth forcibly removed, but before he was done he earned a Victory Medal and a Service Medal.
Hackenberger recalled the long trip home after the war as the Pennsylvania, a wounded battleship, limped home from Okinawa, stopping in Guam and the Wake Islands before finally arriving in Bremerton.
“We would throw paper over the side to see if we were moving,” Hackenberger said.
He also told with a laugh a favorite memory. During the war, Hackenberger, who is twice widowed, brought home to his first wife a grass skirt from Hawaii. She looked at it, then asked, “Where have you been all this time?”
“The label said ‘Made in Brooklyn,’” Hackenberger said.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.