FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (Nexstar) — On a crisp Saturday December morning in the Texas Hill Country, several hundred gathered at the National Museum of the Pacific War to pay tribute to the lives lost during the Pearl Harbor bombing, and honor survivors of the attack.
“We stand here as a grateful people and as a grateful nation,” Robert Stanton, director of the National Park Service from 1997-2001, said at a ceremony at the museum in Fredericksburg, Texas on Dec. 7, 2019, 78 years to the day of the deadly bombing in Hawaii that cost about 2,400 people their lives and left more than 1,100 wounded.
Texan J.C. Alston was serving aboard the battleship U.S.S. California when it was damaged. He was wrapping up watch duty when the attack began.
“I was just getting relieved when they hit the California,” he recalled. “I was getting relieved to go eat breakfast. So I said today, they still owe me a breakfast.”
Alston, a native of Cone, Texas, an unincorporated community 35 miles outside of Lubbock, had moved to Temple with his farmer parents before enlisting in the Navy.
“I didn’t want to bog in the mud and in the rain that the soldiers have to, so I went ahead and joined the Navy,” he said.
He was 18 when the Navy base was bombed.
“They had everybody working cleaning up and everything,” he said of the attack’s aftermath. “They raised three ships and put them back in service, and we went through the war, it was the California, the Nevada, and the West Virginia.”
After leaving the service, Alston was a firefighter and police officer for the VA. Now at 96 years old, he and his family participated in Saturday’s ceremony honoring Pearl Harbor survivors and those who lost their lives.
He said he hoped the nation has learned from its history, as international diplomacy and warfare are made more complicated by advancements in equipment and bomb capabilities.
“We’ve got to be alert and not let this happen again,” he said.
The Texas Veterans Commission coordinates services for veterans and their families, including mental health, job training, entrepreneurial assistance and peer-to-peer programs connecting veterans to others who have served.
“It’s important that we let the veterans know that we don’t forget. We have not forgotten their service, and that we appreciate it,” Texas Veterans Commission public affairs officer Jim Halbrook said. “The state of Texas is a model for a lot of other states because it does a really good job of helping its veterans find their benefits, connect with their benefits, whether it be disability or helping them find a job.”
Alston, who still drives and lives in his own home in Troy, Texas, said he will continue to participate in Pearl Harbor remembrance events in the future, health-permitting, with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“It means a whole lot because of the people, they still remember,” he said.