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Annual Pearl Harbor ceremony brings mix of solemn remembrance, celebration of sailors

The "Date Which Will Live in Infamy" was remembered, as it always is on December 7, at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. This year's edition of the Pearl Harbor Remembrance ceremony featured honors for two veterans who served on submarines in World War II and remarks from one of the officers aboard the soon-to-be-commissioned new USS Little Rock LCS9.

On this date in 1941, Japanese planes staged a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy fleet in Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The attack resulted in the deaths of 2,403 Americans and brought the United States into World War II.

"Like the battles at Lexington and Concord, and the fights at Bull Run and Antietam, the attack on Pearl Harbor shaped our country and our identity," said Don Alessi, chairman of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. "While 76 years may have passed and real-life memories fade, Pearl Harbor is firmly entrenched in American history."

Two veterans who served aboard submarines during World War II were honored for their service. Robert Stoll and Dick Bondi both admitted they were not expecting to be guests of honor. While accepting their certificates, Stoll joked that had he known he would be recognized, he would have worn a tuxedo.

Stoll, who is now 91 years old and lives in Rochester, has been to Buffalo's waterfront attraction several times before.

"I've been off and on here since they built the place," he said. "I'm Navy. I'll always be Navy. They still pay me every month. It's nice."

Following the ceremony, both spoke of their service, including the pride and even some of the luck that came with it.

"I had personal shipmates who flipped the coin for the USS Shark," Bondi recalled. "I lost the flip, they got the boat. They went down."

This year, the guest speakers included a representative of the new USS Little Rock LCS 9, which is docked in Buffalo in advance of its December 16 commissioning ceremony. Chief Petty Officer Franco Montjoy pointed out the history that will be made when, for the first time ever, a new ship will be commissioned next to its retired namesake. 

He acknowledged and showed his respect for World War II era sailors, explaining that although no longer active they are still shipmates.

"I call them our shipmates because even though we may never have met, or even shared the same era, we share a common bond," Montjoy said. "We served at sea. And that makes us shipmates."

Stoll firmly agreed with the sentiment.

"There's a tight bond. When you wear the submarine dolphins, we're a family," he said, explaining that his dolphin insignia appears on his belt buckle.

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