Joseph Eskenazi, the oldest survivor of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, has a heart condition that prevents him from boarding a plane to attend ceremonies at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans this week. said the doctor.
Celebrating his 105th birthday didn’t keep veterans away from Redondo Beach.
Eskenazi reaches the museum where he and eight other veterans are honored and share stories of their service thanks to Amtrak cross-country trains funded by the Soaring Valor Program through the Gary Sinise Foundation. Did.
“I got on the train and it shook a little bit, and it shook me,” Eskenazi said with a laugh from his New Orleans hotel room on Friday.
About 81 years ago, Eskenazy was nearly thrown out of bed at 8:00 a.m. while stationed at Schofield Barracks, about 17 miles from Pearl Harbor.
Pfc. Eskenazi said he was 18 years old. When he got out, he saw a low-flying Japanese plane drop a bomb about 150 feet away. It did not explode, but another Japanese plane strafed the barracks, killing his friend as he escaped from the diner.
A commander arrived on a motorcycle and asked for volunteers. He needed someone to drive a bulldozer and clear blown-up tracks so soldiers could move heavy equipment and repair airfields.
“I immediately raised my hand,” said Eskenazi. But while he was in the car, the last plane strafed him and machine-gun fire spewed out around him.
“This was an act of God, because we were so close to annihilation,” he said.
The attack killed more than 2,300 soldiers and ultimately plunged the United States into World War II.
For years, Eskenazi didn’t talk much about that day.
Eskenazi’s daughter, Belinda Eskenazi Mastrangelo, 68, remembers growing up with a father who never talked about the war.
As Eskenazi and wife Vickie celebrated their 50th birthdayth When he and his family celebrated their wedding anniversary in Hawaii in 1997, Mastrangelo said his father didn’t want to visit the Pearl Harbor War Memorial.
Mastrangelo, who accompanied his father on a trip to the National World War II Museum, said, “Even much later, he didn’t want to talk about it.
It’s not uncommon for veterans to keep quiet about their time in the war, but there’s something about being in a museum that opens them up, actor Gary Sinise said. The Gary Sinise Foundation has helped raise millions of dollars for organizations and causes dedicated to serving the men and women of the U.S. military and their families.
“As we walk through the museum, the veterans start talking again and again, and their families say they have never heard some of the stories that came out during their trip,” Sinise said. We are lucky now that World War II veterans still live among us.”
Sinise was first introduced to the museum by actor Tom Hanks, who appeared in the World War II movie Saving Private Ryan. Sinise later arranged for his uncle Jack Sinise to be interviewed by the museum’s historian to share his experience as a navigator aboard his Fortress flying B-17.
“I thought every family of WWII veterans should have something like this,” Sinise said.
Eskenazi was born in New York and moved to Puebla, Mexico when he was seven years old when his Sephardic Jewish family moved to him. He enlisted in the U.S. Army a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew he wanted to travel.
“I wanted to live an adventurous life,” said Eskenazi, who turns 105 on January 30.
While at the museum, he and other veterans were honored in a ceremony, and their oral histories, including 12,000 personal accounts from the war, were added to the museum’s archives, according to museum spokesperson Keith Darcy. it was done.
During the ceremony, Eskenazi joined his family, including his soon-to-five-year-old great-grandson and one-year-old great-granddaughter.
“It was great to be there,” Eskenazi said. “Everyone congratulated me and said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I didn’t expect all this, but here I am.”