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He also organized last Saturday’s 75th anniversary remembrance luncheon in Concord. And now, at 92, he shares his experiences whenever he can — at schools and civic engagements, for stories in the media and at special events.
“I wish I’d have started talking about it sooner.” He said he does it for the 2,400 who died, and to acknowledge the gravity of the attack itself, “the most disastrous single event in the history of the U. He will speak at this year’s Mount Diablo beacon ceremony, the 53rd annual, to be held for the fourth year at Cal State East Bay, beginning at p.m. Given that several East Bay-area Pearl Harbor survivors are at the 75th anniversary observance in Hawaii on Wednesday, Kohler said he may be the only survivor at the event in Concord.
Dick Heron, a Save Mount Diablo volunteer and beacon restoration project manager, said Kohler brought his experiences with cranes — and war — to the project.
“He told us that when we’re lifting that beacon, we were lifting his fellow soldiers off the bottom of that harbor,” Heron said.
“We were going to go down fighting.” But he didn’t go down, remaining in the Navy through the war and two years beyond, and with the Navy Reserve for another eight years.
After that, he spoke little of that “day which will live in infamy.” So seldom did it come up that, in 2008, one of Kohler’s three adult sons told him he didn’t know he was a Pearl Harbor survivor.
(Both Kohler and the kids were thrilled, Bower said.) “He doesn’t make it about him; it’s all about honoring the people who were lost,” said Bower, whose Army Reserve unit in Concord sent a detachment of eight soldiers to help with Kohler’s Saturday luncheon. “When I was there (in 1941), I saw it blow up, saw it burning, saw it all as the ‘wages of war,’ ” Kohler said.
“In 2010, it was about the people, those who went down with the Arizona.
At 84, this (mostly) retired construction worker and foreman finally started speaking up about what he and his fellow sailors went through.