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AFTAC holds annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony

Duane Reyelts (left) accepts a statue from Air Force Technical Applications Institute Vice Commander Lt. Col. Donna Rogers. Mr. Rogers was the guest speaker at AFTAC's Pearl Harbor memorial ceremony Dec. 7. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Laviska)

Duane Reyelts (left) accepts a statue from Air Force Technical Applications Institute Vice Commander Lt. Col. Donna Rogers. Mr. Rogers was the guest speaker at AFTAC's Pearl Harbor memorial ceremony Dec. 7. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Laviska)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The Air Force Technical Applications Center held its 13th Annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony Dec. 7, to honor Pearl Harbor survivors.

The ceremony featured AFTAC troops in formation, AFTAC members of the Patrick Air Force Base Honor Guard, and Florida Air Academy's Junior ROTC color guard and saber team.

The guest speaker was Duane Reyelts, the Florida State chairman of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Inc., and a sailor who survived the capsizing of the USS Oklahoma. Of the 2,166 sailors and Marines aboard the battleship, 429 were lost in the attack - second only to the USS Arizona in number of casualties of any ship at Pearl Harbor.

Mr. Reyelts described being awakened by the sound of alarms and an announcement calling all hands to their battle stations. Wearing "only his undershorts" he made his way to his battle station as men yelled and hatches slammed closed. Less than 10 minutes later, the ship was on its side and he was climbing up through a porthole to escape.

Through oily water littered with debris, he swam about 75 feet to the USS Maryland. The effort exhausted him as he was not a strong swimmer. He found a line hanging from the ship and attempted to climb up, however, his hands were oily and wet and he slipped back into the water several times. A sailor on deck eventually noticed him and helped pull him onboard. After a short rest, he joined a line of men passing ammunition to an anti-aircraft gun. He spent the remainder of the war assigned to the destroyer USS Dewey.

Mr. Reyelts said he enjoys telling his story. He often speaks at schools because it's important the lessons of Pearl Harbor are passed on to younger generations.

"It's so important for me to have everyone remember," he said. "It's so important that they remember Pearl Harbor to keep America alert."

The early morning attack was a complete surprise, killing nearly 2,400 and wounding nearly 1,200 others. Twelve ships were either beached or sunk and nine were damaged. In addition, nearly 165 aircraft were destroyed and 159 were damaged. While the attack decimated the Pacific Fleet, it unified Americans as the United States entered World War II.

"From the ashes of that war, we became a superpower charged with the task of setting the example for all democracies to follow," said AFTAC Vice Commander Lt. Col. Donna Rogers in her opening remarks. "We continue to meet this challenge by looking forward to the future and at the same time never forgetting our past."

AFTAC commanders throughout the years have been committed to holding the ceremony, which was first held under Col. Glen Schaffer in 1994.