The Antelope Valley will play host to a number of holiday activities, beginning with the Lancaster Christmas Parade which will roll through town tomorrow from 10 a.m. to noon. The annual event, sponsored by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, will travel down 10th Street West to Division Street and will have special significance this year because a genuine Pearl Harbor survivor, Eugene Lajeunesse, will serve as an honorary grand marshall in commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the attack by air and naval forces of Japan on the U.S. Navy base in Hawaii.
Lajeunesse, now 90, served aboard the USS Helena and fought on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, as well as serving in the Korean War.
Although Christmas parades are typically festive and brimming with cheer, tomorrow’s event in Lancaster will mark one of the most somber events in American history. There are not many Pearl Harbor survivors left today (some estimates place the number at 2,000 to 2,500) because practically all of these veterans have reached their 90th year. The oldest known survivor is retired Navy Lieutenant Jim Downing of Colorado Springs who celebrated his 100th birthday in August.
On Nov. 10, the late Bud Cloud visited the namesake of his old ship, the USS Dewey, at San Diego Naval Base. The original sank during the attack in Hawaii. Cloud was terminally ill and requested to see the Navy personnel one last time. “That’s why he was so close to the Dewey,” said Anita, Cloud’s wife of 30 years. “It was his home base. You might say his home ship.” About 50 sailors were on hand simply to say hello and to shake his hand. They honored Cloud with hats, medals (even a special one presented by the ship’s captain) and a rousing “three cheers” salute. Cloud died 13 days later.
Just last year, 90-year-old Herb Elfring shared his memories of Pearl Harbor in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I was merely reading the bulletin board on the corner of our barracks, when the first Japanese plane came over and strafed (sprayed) the camp. It missed me by 15 feet,” Elfring said. He admitted fretting that the younger generation doesn’t know what Pearl Harbor means. “As time goes on, the real facts seem to get distorted. What makes it different every year is that the Pearl Harbor survivors are depleting.”
One of the largest Pearl Harbor commemorations takes place each year in Hawaii. The Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade was commissioned 71 years ago to remember the military personnel who died or were wounded. That parade has been recognized by numerous veterans associations, community organizations, military and government officials and provides participants and spectators an opportunity to salute today’s men and women who, of late, frequently sacrifice their lives for the nation.
The now-defunct Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which held its last meeting two years ago this month, actually got started in nearby Gardena in 1954. Several survivors of the attack gathered at the Del Camino Room to remember their fallen comrades and friends. Those in attendance swore collectively that they would make the commemoration an annual event. Beginning in 1958, the survivors began an eternal search for others who had lived through the attack, and they held their first convention the next year at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.
There were about 84,000 uniformed Americans on Oahu when at 7:48 Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941 the first of 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes launched from Wake Island were spotted approaching Pearl Harbor. Then torpedoes were seen streaming toward the ships, all part of two waves launched from six Japanese aircraft carriers. A few hours earlier, Japan attacked the U.S.-held Philippines, and British Empire territories in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong.
All eight U.S. Navy battleships (in Pearl Harbor) were damaged, and four sank—among the most famous of which the USS Arizona where hundreds of bodies still are entombed (1,177 sailors died aboard the Arizona, including 171 Californians). Japan sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers and destroyed 188 aircraft. After 120 minutes, 2,402 Americans were dead and 1,282 lay wounded. Japan’s losses were considerably light: 29 planes and five “midget” submarines were lost, 65 servicemen killed or wounded and one Japanese sailor captured. The following day, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress requesting war be declared on the Empire of Japan. After the attack, Japan had briefly secured the largest empire in world history—the entire Pacific Ocean.
Before the attack, the United States was not involved actively in the Second World War. Japan and the U.S. had certain preexisting tensions (Japanese expansion, a U.S.-led oil embargo against Japan) that exacerbated several issues such as Japan not being allowed to go to the Pacific countries to procure raw materials and natural resources. Also, the United States was not sending products like airplanes and their spare parts to Japan. The Japanese considered this behavior hostile. Then Japan demanded access to countries in Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies to procure the existing resources and in doing so, it was believed that the United States would not be able to seize these countries and root out Japanese forces.
Almost immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, and America found itself fighting on two fronts. This conflict ended four years later in April 1945 initially when Adolph Hitler committed suicide inside his Berlin bunker, and finally in August when President Harry S. Truman opted to forgo a planned invasion of the Japanese mainland and ordered two atomic bombs be dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This resulted in the “unconditional surrender” of the Empire of Japan.
As a lead up to the parade, Lancaster’s fourth annual “Magical BLVD Christmas” will take place this evening from 5 to 9 p.m. between 10th Street West and Sierra Highway.
“A ‘Magical BLVD Christmas’ is one of our most beloved annual events, because it brings citizens together to celebrate a treasured time of year,” said Lancaster Vice Mayor Marvin Christ. “The winter holiday season stirs up a unique feeling in children and adults alike, drawing family and friends closer as they prepare for the year ahead.”
Tonight’s festivities in Lancaster will include musicians, carolers, an outdoor movie, arts and crafts and even a “Holiday Train Express.”
In order to take advantage of the expected chilly weather in the Antelope Valley this weekend, a children’s sledding area will be included in the Christmas program. There will also be food tasting opportunities presented by BLVD restaurants and various outdoor food vendors; the fare will generally consist of comfort foods traditionally consumed this time of year and, of course, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts.
Tomorrow’s parade will feature 108 entrants, including: the Lancaster High School Junior ROTC, Miss Lancaster (Kelsey Evenson), the Antelope Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the California Highway Patrol, Antelope Valley Girl Scouts, West Lancaster Little League, the Antelope Valley Naval Sea Cadet Corp, Boys & Girls Club of Antelope Valley, Antelope Valley Corvette Club and, of course, Santa Claus. Fourteen bands, most of which are from local schools, will provide holiday music. They include Antelope Valley, Littlerock, Palmdale, Quartz Hill and Rosamond high schools as well as Cole Middle School.
Tonight and tomorrow evening at 8 the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, 750 W. Lancaster Blvd., will present Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” There will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $20 for orchestra seating, and $16 for balcony seats.
The Antelope Valley Board of Trade on Saturday, Dec. 12 will host its 24th annual Holiday Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1309 Rancho Vista Blvd. Tickets are $25 per person.
The Helen Reddy Christmas Show is scheduled Saturday, Dec. 21 at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center. For ticket prices or more information, call (661) 723-5950. “Christmas Creche Art and Music Festival” takes place at 11:30 a.m. today through Dec. 9 at Lancaster East Stake Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 44330 27th Street East. Admission is free.
“With four days packed with live musical performances by ensembles from throughout the Antelope Valley, children’s activities, and more than 1,000 crèches from all over the world, this event offers something for everyone,” said Kevin Cordes, president of the Lancaster East Stake. “The festival is a wonderful way to start the Christmas season. We warmly welcome the entire community to join with us in celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The music at the Creche festival continues through the evening, and tonight’s festivities will also feature the annual High School Choral Festival, in which an estimated 400 students from five local high schools will perform. Also, the four-day event will feature an extensive display of nativity scenes.
This year’s festival will include choral groups from Highland, Lancaster, Palmdale, Pete Knight and Quartz Hill high schools, in addition to the Quartz Hill High School band.
On Sunday evening, attendees can participate in the Messiah Sing-Along. It will be led by Lancaster High School choral director Arthur Miller.
Other performers throughout the festival will include Sacred Heart Children’s choir and Bell Choir, Antelope Valley Children’s Choir, Antelope Valley College Flute Choir, Donna O Studios, Lancaster United Methodist Chancel choir, AV Jazz Ensemble, the Oliver Bell Choir, Devotion in Motion Style, Lancaster Community Orchestra, Sunday Night Singers and Summerwinds Woodwind Quintet.
Finally, the Palmdale Chamber of Commerce will host its annual William J. “Pete” Knight Christmas Parade on Saturday Dec. 14, traveling down 47th Street East beginning at 8 a.m. Sponsored by the Palmdale Auto Mall Super Center, the theme this year is “Miracle on 47th Street” and will feature floats, cars and live bands.