Recollections: West Texas and Pearl Harbor, 75 Years Later

LUBBOCK, TX - 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the United States into World War II, West Texans who lived through the attack in one way or another reflected on that historic time.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it "a date which will live in infamy.” A day after December 7, 1941, he delivered a radio address announcing a declaration of war.

Martha Bolash's husband, Peter, was at the Schofield Barracks, on the island of Oahu, during the attacks. He was in the Army at that time.

"Pete looked up and the little Japanese zeroes were coming over. And they were strafing," Bolash said. "[His old Master Sergeant] knew what it was all about, he said 'hit the deck, hit the deck,' and Pete and he fell. And they went on over."

She said Peter nearly did not make it.

"He said 'I was that close to death. If that thing had hit me,'" she explained.

Peter Bolash went on to serve in major battles across Europe, his wife said.

The pair met in Lubbock nine years later, and married in 1955.

"Being a military wife for 25 years, a military wife, it was an honor. I felt a real honor to represent this country wherever we went," she said about her experience following her husband on his lengthy career in the Air Force after switching from the Army.

"[I] had a wonderful life, I really did. I don't really think I ever went anywhere I didn't enjoy," she stated.

Peter was awarded a Pearl Harbor Survivor's Medal in 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, posthumously, three years after his death.

"They waited a little too late to give it to him. I accepted that award for him and I thought-- it was so sad," she said of that bittersweet memory. "I felt so bad that they couldn't have done that a few years earlier and given that to him because he earned it. I was always happy to be the wife of a military man."

One month after the bombing, R.L. Owens joined the Army.

"I was a farm boy at that time, I was 21," Owens said. "I was in combat in '42, '43, and '44."

"I had already passed my physical at the time of Pearl Harbor and just waited to be called up. I went in the service on January 5, 1942," Owens explained.

The Comanche, OK native fought across the Pacific region, including New Guinea.

Owens was discharged in 1944. He is decorated with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, in addition to several other commendations.

"It's meant a lot to me," said the 96-year-old Plainview resident. "I've had a lot of pride to be able to be in World War II. We had some rough old times, and sometimes it looked like we just flat wasn't going to make it, you get so much ammunition being flown around you, and you're just thankful to be able to come out of that."

"It makes me proud, but it makes me feel humble, is the only thing I know how to say about it," he added.

Acknowledging the service of those who passed away during battle, but also later on, is important, said Lou Ortiz, Director of the Military and Veterans Programs at Texas Tech University.

"[The attack and war declaration] really established our position and posture in the world as a global leader, both during World War II but also afterward. That role continues even until today," Ortiz explained.

"We need to remember those who perished on that day. Over 2,300 Americans died and over 1,100 Americans were wounded on that day. It's important that we always remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the nation," he said.

"Were it not for their sacrifices, not just on the day of the attack, but the subsequent periods that we've had in every war that we've had," Ortiz added. "Those are the folks that put their lives on the line and defend our nation and we owe them a debt of gratitude. But we also owe them the tribute and remembrance that their service and valor has earned them."

Ortiz said most veterans he interacts with believe the Lubbock area is "one of the best places in the country" to be a veteran, "because we are appreciated."

"We're very much honored and appreciated in particular by West Texas and the Lubbock area community. To a person, people here recognize the importance of what we do, they go out of our way to recognize our contributions," said Ortiz.

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