April 30, 2013 — Time marches relentlessly forward, and we are quickly losing what’s left of America’s Greatest Generation. We all should pause and take the time to recognize each of our friends and neighbors born in the years after World War I who suffered through the Great Depression only to find themselves involved in a World War after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
That attack marked our country’s entry into World War II, and in less than four years the United States and its allies totally defeated the fascist regimes in Europe and the island imperialists in the Pacific.
Depending upon the source, somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 American warfighters lost their lives in the conflict that probably touched everyone on the planet in some way.
It’s been more than 70 years since that horrific attack on Pearl Harbor and many of the veterans of that attack and of that war are passing. Soon, none of us will be able to share a first-hand memory of those days, and the events will remain simply as photographs and stories in yellowing books and magazines or grainy images in old newsreels.
Last week here in Lassen County we bid our last respects to Frank Tomberlin, the last of two (and perhaps three) Pearl Harbor survivors in Lassen County. Tomberlin served on the destroyer USS Henley — moored at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941 — and his boat returned fire during the attack. The USS Henley also took part in the battle for Wake Island, was involved in the Battle of the Coral Seas and was part of the invasion force during the famous landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi.
The Japanese torpedoed the USS Henley in October 1943 near New Guinea. Several crewmen were lost, but Tomberlin survived and then served on another destroyer — the USS Lyman Swenson — for the remainder of the war.
These proud and patriotic Americans came home from the war and set their sights on creating economic prosperity and pushing our country to new heights as a world power.
Tomberlin left the Navy after the war and worked as a plumber for 32 years in the San Francisco Bay Area before retiring near Westwood in 1973. He also worked for Westwood High School until 1985.
All of us alive today — young and old alike — owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to this generation for its sacrifice and contributions to the freedom we enjoy today. It’s hard to even imagine how different the world would be today if America and her allies had lost that war.
It is right and proper that we honored Tomberlin’s life, his patriotism and his passing last week as he was laid to rest with moving military honors at Diamond Crest Cemetery in Susanville.
Tomberlin’s passing should remind each of us to take the time to acknowledge the remaining World War II veterans and other members of their generation still among us, to shake their hands, look them squarely in the eye and sincerely say thank you and well done.
They’ve been called America’s Greatest Generation for good reason, and we should let them know we will never forget them, their sacrifices or their achievements.
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