BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Those who attended Thursday morning’s Pearl Harbor Day ceremony at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park stood to applaud two Navy veterans who served during World War II, before hearing from one of the leaders of the Navy’s newest ship, which will be commissioned on Buffalo’s waterfront December 16.
“What a huge bookmark in history for Buffalo that it’s going to happen here,” said retired Coast Guard Captain Brian Roche, who serves as executive director for the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.
Every year, Western New Yorkers gather at the Naval Park on December 7, to honor all who were killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
That surprise attack brought the United States into World War II, and some say, brought out the best of the Greatest Generation, who answered the call to fight.
“I went in at 17 and I went all the way through World War II and other wars and stayed in,” said Robert Stoll, who retired as a Chief Petty Officer after serving from 1943 to 1986.
“I just love my country,” said Stoll’s fellow veteran Dick Bondi, when asked why he joined the Navy.
Stoll and Bondi both served on submarines during World War II. Both were honored during Thursday’s ceremony at the Naval Park, and both were very humble about the recognition. “I don’t go for that, but I was forced into it. I wasn’t going to come,” Stoll told News 4. “I know what I did. You don’t have to know about it.”
“My 360 ship mates, plus, who have died should be the ones honored and I feel very humbled to be here,” Bondi said. “And I’m even more humbled by the grunts who were on the ground that had suffered so much.”
“On the submarines we died or we came home. It’s quite a difference,” Bondi explained, his voice thick with emotion. “It’s been an interesting journey, and when I talk about it, I know I’m tearing, but I can’t help it, because when I think of them, it’s too much.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans were killed during World War II. More than 2,400 American servicemen were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The sacrifice of each one is honored on this day. “Pearl harbor is firmly entrenched in American history,” said Don Alessi, Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park chairman, “and as we commemorate this day, our tribute to the American veteran continues.”
One specific group of American sailors was in the spotlight during Thursday’s ceremony, as Chief Petty Officer Franco Montjoy, who came to Buffalo on the soon-to-be commissioned USS Little Rock LCS-9, addressed the crowd gathered for Pearl Harbor Day. “I call them our shipmates because even though we may not have ever met or even shared the same era, we share a common bond: We served at sea,” Montjoy said.
History will be made on Buffalo’s waterfront December 16, when the new USS Little Rock is commissioned alongside its decommissioned namesake.
The Naval Park, which us usually closed for the season by this point in the year, will remain open to the public every day until the new USS Little Rock departs.
Admission to the Naval Park is free for veterans this month.