Events, Giving Back, Military, News

How Detroit finds meaning in remembering Pearl Harbor and honoring those who died


The night on  December 7, 2015 was dark and the fog was thick.  It was almost like it was written to be a moment of reflection on some somber event.

On Dec. 7, 1941, 2,400 people were killed and 1,000 injured in the attack on Pearl Harbor. This signaled America’s involvement in World War II. Seventy-four years later Redford’s Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion posts gather annually to pay tribute to those who suffered or died as part of that first shot. My grandfather, Warren Lapham, was among those laying wreaths at Veteran’s Park near the Redford Township Hall on Beech Daly.

My grandfather, who is 93 and senior vice commander of Post 271, carried the American Legion wreath.

My grandfather, Warren Lapham (left) and a member of VFW Post 271 place a wreath to remember those who died at Pearl Harbor

My grandfather, Warren Lapham (left), and a member of VFW Post 271 place a wreath to remember those who died at Pearl Harbor

Almost three-quarters of a century later he still remembers where it all started.  For the country, it was in a harbor located in the territory of Hawaii that wouldn’t be a state for almost 20 years. For him it was a bedroom in Dixon, Ill.

In 1941 my grandfather was attending Northwestern University, but on that infamous Sunday he was back home in Dixon.  He sat in his bedroom with his brother, John, as an announcement that Pearl Harbor had been attacked cut through the radio program they had been listening to. He knew he was going to be a part of the war that was about to come.

In the next few days his brother enlisted in what would become the U.S. Air Force.  On Monday morning back at school, several of my grandfather’s friends were already making plans to enlist.  My grandfather was drafted into the U.S. Army six months later and told his draft board he was ready to go.

After basic training he served in the Pacific until 1946.

After the war he helped found Dixon’s AMVETS post, before moving to Detroit a few years later.  It wasn’t until 1990 he joined the American Legion, which is a social group that also provides aid to veterans in need.  Once, they even helped a vet with a house payment.

For their 25th wedding anniversary in 1972, my grandfather and grandmother went to Hawaii and saw the site that he annually honors. Grandpa says he became choked up as he stood over the sunken USS Arizona and read the names of the men who died on that battleship in 1941.


These men were honored at the ceremony as well as all those who died in the service of their country.

Begun with the Pledge of Allegiance, a small group gathered to watch as the veterans, a few elected officials from the Redford government and the Redford Township Parade Authority paid tribute to the fallen.


Short speeches were made by VFW Post 345 Commander William Holcomb and Redford Supervisor Tracey Schultz-Kobylarz.

During his speech VFW Commander Holcomb honored those who died or were injured at Pearl Harbor as well as the other 400,000 Americans “who never came home to their families.”

Schultz-Kobylarz also honored those who died and thanked the veterans in attendance for their service, but also reflected on current events.  She recalled the recent Paris terrorist attacks and reflected on the nature of security in our world, finally bringing it back to how the Greatest Generation taught their children and grandchildren to respect and defend our nation.

As the wreathes were laid, rifles were fired in salute, taps was played and the VFW chaplain gave a prayer.  It was over in about 15 minutes, a simple but strong event.



The attack on Pearl Harbor changed our nation forever and made the US a permanent actor on the world’s stage. That’s why it’s important to remember how it all started, especially because it started in tragedy.  As time moves forward Pearl Harbor Day becomes even more important to remember so we can reflect on the causes that truly need to be fought for and think of how we can measure up.


Next year, on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I would recommend you show up to watch this remembrance or one of the many others held in metro Detroit.  They are not long services but they will leave you with a renewed appreciation for those who have defended and are defending our country. Remembering the fallen in a simple ceremony done with honor and respect is humbling.

– Photo credit: Scott Lapham

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