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Pearl Harbor survivors remember American Legion post honors 3 area veterans of 1941 Japanese attack

George Lasezkay was showering in preparation for a round of golf. Franklin McCulloch was tying his shoes as he finished dressing for Mass. Richard Liedke was relaxing in bed.

And then their lives changed forever.

The three Western New York veterans clearly remember the typical Sunday that began Dec. 7, 1941, and they will never forget the terror that put them in the history books.

The men were honored Thursday during the 21st annual Pearl Harbor Memorial ceremony of American Legion Post 735 in West Seneca.

The event marked the 65th anniversary of the attack, which sank 12 ships and heavily damaged nine more, killed 2,390 Americans and injured 1,178, and led to the U.S. entry into World War II.

"We must never forget the heroic deeds and courage of these American servicemen," said keynote speaker James Manley, chairman of the West Seneca Veterans Committee.

The ceremony on the front lawn of the post was among many held around the country. It lasted 20 minutes and three veterans organizations marched in formation. There also was a rifle salute, lowering of the flags and playing of taps.

In Hawaii, many of the 500 veterans who gathered to commemorate the attack were treating Thursday's event as a final chapter in their lives and the last time they would attend one of anniversaries held every five years. There are five area Pearl Harbor veterans registered with the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

"I don't think you are going to see that kind of attendance again, and you just wonder when it's your turn," said Lasezkay, 85, who was a sailor stationed at Pearl Harbor. "We don't think about it with any sadness. It's just life, and it's just what happens. But I hate to see it dwindle."

Lasezkay, McCulloch and Liedke mostly kept warm inside the post's headquarters during the ceremony. A reception followed, when the men reflected on their Pearl Harbor experiences.

On the eve of the attack, Liedke, a member of an Army artillery unit, and other soldiers had concluded during a conversation that Pearl Harbor was "a safe place to be."

"And then the next day, it just seemed like a nightmare," said Liedke, 88, a retired Buffalo steelworker who lives in West Seneca. "The smoke and flames were high; you could see it in the sky."

Lasezkay, a retired advertising executive who lives in West Seneca, was aboard the USS Detroit, one of the few ships not damaged during the attack.

After the attack, the crew went after the Japanese for three days, but were unsuccessful because the enemy had a 350-mile head start.

"Having gone through that, when emergencies arise, I don't panic," he said. "It gives you a greater maturity at an early age."

McCulloch, who was in the Army Air Forces, was preparing to go to Sunday Mass when fragments of bombs hit his barracks.

Then a fellow pilot quickly announced, "We are at war!"

"I thought, 'What play is he rehearsing for,' " said McCulloch, 92, of Clarence. When reality set in, McCulloch ran to his plane, literally dodging bullets from enemy planes above.

"We did not have a plane to take off -- everything was desolate," he said. "We spent the rest of the day collecting our thoughts."

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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