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Pearl Harbor 74th Anniversary today; One Wyoming Vet was there and remembers

Today is the 74th anniversary of the day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said "would live in infamy." The Japanese Empire's surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawai'i on December 7, 1941, resulted in the deaths of more than 2,400 American sailors and airmen, the wounding of 1,000 more and the destruction or severe damage to 18 warships and the destruction of 300 aircraft. Over half of those killed were aboard the battleship USS Arizona. The attack launched the United States into WWII in the Pacific. [image: Inline image 1] * Mel Heckman at his home in Sheridan* The number of Pearl Harbor survivors still living in Wyoming has diminished over the years to where there are now only two members of Wyoming Chapter #1, Pearl Harbor Survivors. The President of the remaining duo is Mel Heckman of Sheridan. "I think the other member is in Casper," he said. Mel opened his home this past week to Pitchengine Communities to talk about that dark day in U.S. Naval History. [image: Inline image 2] *World War II era photo of Mel Heckman* Heckman moved to Wyoming 50 years ago "because I got tired of the east coast, so I bought a ranch in Buffalo and worked it for several decades," the 92-year-old veteran said. He was born and raised on a farm in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. He joined the Navy when he was 17 in 1940. Heckman remembered that he came to Pearl Harbor six months before the war and was assigned to the Ford Island Naval Station along battleship row, where the big warships were moored. "I was a fireman on December 7th and we had a lot of fires that day, there was plenty of work to do," he said. "All of our planes at Hickam Field were damaged so we had no aircraft to fight." There was one close call that ended up earning Heckman a Purple Heart. "I was trailing one fire truck when I saw an enemy plane come up from behind to attack us. I yelled at the driver to floor it and he did. Then I saw the plane drop its bomb and we all ran and it hit behind us. We got caught in the surge of the explosion. It created a crater 20 feet in diameter but we didn't lose any of our four men or the truck," he said. [image: Inline image 3] *Purple Heart awarded for injuries at Pearl Harbor and honorary Sheridan College degree in history.* The attack, which lasted about two hours, left everyone shaken and a bit spooked, he said. "The Enterprise (Aircraft Carrier) sent in five planes, but we didn't know they were ours and we shot them down, unfortunately, but everyone was really on edge." Fortunately for the Navy's Pacific Fleet, the Enterprise was out to sea and wasn't in Pearl Harbor as the Japanese had hoped. Heckman survived that day and went on to attend officers candidate school and the Naval Air Training Center in Pensacola, Florida, getting his wings in 1944. He said he remained in the service until after the war, leaving the Navy in 1946. As president of the Wyoming Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors, Heckman said it had become increasingly difficult to keep track of all the members. "As they got older they left the state to be closer to their children and families," he said. [image: Inline image 4] *Mel's 1945 Naval Air Training Naval Avaiator training certificate and a photo of his fighter aircraft.* [image: Inline image 5] *Mel at a previous Sheridan College veterans' ceremony. Sheridan College presented Heckman with an Honorary History Degree. * [image: Inline image 6] *Memorabilia in Mel's Sheridan home* *Feature Photo: Vice President Joe Biden laid a wreath at the USS Arizona Memorial on Pearl Harbor in this file photo. (White House / Pitchengine Communities) * #county10 #news #dally #oilcity #reboot #buckrail #shortgo #county17