15th Wing hosts Dec. 7 remembrance ceremony

Retired Air Force Col. Andrew Kowalski and Tech. Sgt. Durward Swanson, survivors of the 1941 attack on Hickam Field, attend the 15th Wing’s Remembrance Ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Dec. 7.

Story and photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman

15th Wing Public Affairs

Seventy-six years after a date that will live in infamy, the 15th Wing hosted a Dec. 7 Remembrance Ceremony in commemoration of the attack on Hickam Field in 1941.

“Seventy-six years ago on a day much like today, an attack was launched by the Imperial Japanese Navy,” said Col. Kevin Gordon, 15th Wing commander. “This very ground shook from the bombs that were released by the multitude of Japanese aircraft flying overhead, on this exact spot where we are sitting today.”

More than 400 military members, veterans and family members attended the ceremony to honor and remember the 189 Airmen who lost their lives during the two waves of attacks by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941.

“A lot has changed since that day,” Gordon said. “The U.S. was victorious in World War II, and Japan is now our treaty ally. What hasn’t changed is our choice to honor and remember the courage, bravery, sacrifice and determination of those who weathered the attack.”

The ceremony included performances by the Air Force Band of the Pacific, an F-22 missing man fly-over from the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing, wreath laying, and an honor guard three-round volley. Shadow boxes were also presented to retired Air Force Col. Andrew Kowalski and former Tech. Sgt. Durward Swanson, survivors of the attack in attendance.

In addition to honoring Kowalski and Swanson, the ceremony honored men and women whose lives were forever changed that day.

On the morning of the attack, 12 B-17 Flying Fortresses were traveling from Hamilton Field, California to the Philippines. The first aircraft arrived over Hickam Field during the Japanese attack and was strafed. The aircraft broke in two after landing and 1st Lt. William Shlick, the flight doctor, managed to get out of the aircraft. He was killed by a Japanese bullet while still on the flightline.

Swanson was a night-shift guard at the main gate and was relieved of duty before the attack. He was in bed when the bombing and strafing woke him. He got dressed, grabbed his helmet and gun, and headed back to his post. Upon returning to the guard post he witness a friend, U.S. Army Air Corps Pfc. James Strickland get hit by an enemy bullet.

During this time, then-Master Sgt. Kowalski, heard the explosions from base housing and immediately reported to the wing headquarters building, where he worked for the wing commander. Kowalski spent the day manning the phones for the commander and maintaining the official list of Hickam Field casualties.

A group of Airmen were in the barracks when they witnessed the attack. They got dressed and headed to the headquarters building.

While underway they took cover from the attacks. Once at the headquarters building, they carried buckets of water to the roof to help cool the barrel of a machine gun the Army set up. That night they slept on the floor in anticipation for a Japanese ground attack.

By the end of the attack, 189 Army Air Corps Airmen and civilians lost their lives, 303 others were injured, and only 79 of the 231 Hawaiian Air Force planes were usable.

The 15th Wing holds a remembrance ceremony every year at the same time as the first attack wave to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“No other generation has sacrificed more for their country,” Gordon said. “We are forever grateful and will always remember them.”

Retired Air Force Col. Andrew Kowalski and Tech. Sgt. Durward Swanson, survivors of the 1941 attack on Hickam Field, attend the 15th Wing’s Remembrance Ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Dec. 7.

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