FAIRFIELD — Three veterans described for Fairfield High School students the day of infamy that sent them into military service as teenagers.
“The lesson of Pearl Harbor is that an event can happen that changes everything in your life,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Getz, 89, of Fairfield. “Anything we had thought about that we wanted to do was out the window.”
He and two other residents of Paradise Valley Estates, retired U.S. Marines Col. Warren MacQuarrie, 90, and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Glen Grewe, 90, spoke Friday to Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets at the high school.
Getz was a 17-year-old student at a military academy where he worked serving meals and stood with a tray when he learned about the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. About three months later when he was 18, Getz began his service in the Air Force and as a 19-year-old was a second lieutenant. Before he was old enough to vote – or buy a drink if he were a drinker – he was a captain in the Air Force, he told students.
Recounting his joining the military, he told the teens gathered in the school library that we don’t choose the year – or where – we’re born but do make decisions that alter our lives.
“I made a choice that changed the rest of my life,” Getz said. “I loved the military. I loved flying.”
MacQuarrie said in December 1941 he was 18 and installing gas pedals for 50 cents an hour on a Ford assembly line. He was hanging out with a friend who heard on the radio what had happened.
“We were stunned,” MacQuarrie said. “We never expected Pearl Harbor to be attacked.”
He enlisted in the Marines, flew his last World War II mission Aug. 14, 1945, and went on to fly 46 missions, most of them air support for Marines, in Korea. He commanded a Marine helicopter group in Vietnam and returned to the United States in 1969. MacQuarrie retired from the Marines in 1972.
Grewe remembered the isolationist group America First arguing before Pearl Harbor that oceans on either side of the country meant the United States didn’t need to get involved in war.
“They were very wrong, of course,” he said.
Grewe said discussions in U.S. history class in high school showed it was just a matter of time before the United States was involved in war.
“Pearl Harbor changed all that from guessing to knowing,” Grewe said.
After America entered the war, the country became an industrial giant almost overnight, Grewe recounted.
“Pearl Harbor unified this country,” he said. “I’m sure the Japanese by 1945 were very unhappy with what they had done.”
“I’m not sure Hitler was very happy about Japan bombing our country,” Grewe added. “It changed our country.”
Getz spoke to students about how combat is arbitrary. Flak, the exploding ammunition that can strike an aircraft, has no address, he said. Survival doesn’t depend upon your skill, Getz added. “It depends upon pure chance,” he said.
But while we’re all a product of chances, Getz added, we also get choices. Decide carefully, he said. “A choice may live with you.”
“You’re not kids anymore,” he told the JROTC cadets. “You’re mature adults.”
“You’ll do well,” Getz said. “I know you will.”
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