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LI military veterans remember Pearl Harbor

Two men salute wreathes laid in honor of

Two men salute wreathes laid in honor of those who served in World War II at an annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance Ceremony in Port Jefferson. (Dec. 2, 2012) Credit: Kathleen Fordyce

Gerald Barbosa remembers the scream of diving aircraft. The cacophonous drumming of lead on steel hulls. The creosote stench of burning nautical fuel. And his own feelings of astonishment and rage.

Barbosa, 88, of East Meadow, remembers Pearl Harbor.

He was there.

"I can't say what I was thinking because they were all curse words," said Barbosa, who was a seaman first class aboard the USS Raleigh when it was nearly sunk by a Japanese torpedo.

"You were shocked, you were surprised . . . " he said. "We just kept loading and firing."

Seventy-one years ago Friday, Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese warplanes attacked U.S. military installations on pre-statehood Hawaii, which only months earlier had replaced San Diego as home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Some 2,402 Americans perished, including 1,177 crew members of the battleship Arizona, which sank in less than nine minutes. It was the deadliest single attack on U.S. soil until Sept. 11, 2001.

The attack pushed America into World War II. For many Long Islanders now in their 80s or 90s, Dec. 7, 1941, represents a moment frozen in time -- a transfigurative instant that changed the trajectory of their lives.

Leo Catalfomo, 89, who grew up in Red Hook, said he was in a Brooklyn movie theater when he learned that the United States was under attack. He enlisted soon afterward, he said, and he spent the next three years fighting in Europe.

"All the lights came on, the movie stopped, and they made an announcement: 'All military personnel report to your post,' " said Catalfomo, who lives in East Meadow.

Joe Zangre, 94, was home with his mother on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when he heard the news.

Zangre, who moved to Lindenhurst more than 50 years ago, earned a living as a bartender at the time. He said the attack wounded his pride and that of his bar patrons alike.

Less than four years later, Zangre found himself working on ground crews with the 509th Composite Group, on an island named Tinian in the South Pacific.

Among their warplanes was one that bore the name "Enola Gay" -- the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

"I guess we were all mad, and all eager to get back at them," Zanger said. "Which we did."

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