OCEANSIDE — A blanket of flower petals quietly drifted between the docked boats and lounging sea lions in the harbor on the morning of Dec. 7. Just a few minutes prior, those petals were falling between fingers of those honoring Pearl Harbor defenders.
This year was the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Bertha Sterling had walked around the crowd gathered on the small fishing pier in the Oceanside Harbor with a basket full of petals, asking attendees to take a handful and drop them into the water below. This has become an annual occasion for her.
Sterling was just an observant when she first started going to the remembrance ceremony, held every year on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on the small pier at 9:30 a.m. She was also a student of Linda Dudik, a former history professor who taught at Palomar College.
Dudik is also one of the reasons why Sterling started volunteering her time to help organize the remembrance ceremony. For many years, it was Joe Walsh who was in charge of the organizing efforts.
People like Dudik and Sterling took the reins a few years ago when it became too much for Walsh.
Both Walsh, 99, and John Quier, 98, are the remaining two surviving members of Tri-City Chapter 31, the North County chapter of the now-disbanded Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, who were honored at the ceremony.
Dudik started attending Chapter 31’s monthly meetings several years ago.
“The more I learned about them, the more I fell in love with them all,” she said.
Dudik had developed a college course that focused on the lives of people who lived during World War II, and some of the defenders sat on the Pacific Theatre panel for her class.
When she retired in May 2009, she formed an educational nonprofit that works with some of those people to preserve their stories for younger generations.
Her website also records the story of Joe Walsh and his wife, Bea, both of whom served as Marines during World War II (Bea was also at the remembrance ceremony).
According to Joe Walsh’s story on Dudik’s website, on Dec. 7, 1941, he “ended up fighting in the first battle American servicemen fought in World War II” on the Navy yard in Oahu.
In the story, Walsh said the next two hours were “all confusion” as the Japanese planes mounted their aerial assault.
Joe’s battalion fired “anti-aircraft” machine guns at Japanese ships that aimed for the docked U.S. battleships on Ford Island, which was within sight of where Walsh was on Oahu.
“They represent the best of America,” Dudik said of the World War II generation. “The sense of community, patriotism, commitment and a willingness to sacrifice their personal lives for a greater cause if need be.”
Sterling rediscovered her love of history through Dudik.
“She brought the love of history back into my heart,” Sterling said. “I come here every year just to help her.”According to Sterling, Dudik’s teaching keeps history and the memory of the World War II generation alive.
Samantha Taylor covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son