PFC John Eskenazi recalls Pearl Harbor during Redondo Beach Memorial Day Observance

by Kevin Cody

Based on his newspaper readings, Private First Class Joe Eskenazi wondered why Pearl Harbor was on a Class B, and not a Class A alert.

“The base was like a country club,” the 103 year-old veteran recalled in remarks read by his grandson during a Memorial Day ceremony at Veteran’s Park in Redondo Beach. Eskenazi was a member of Company “C” of the 804th Engineers, assigned to Pearl Harbor to work on the neighboring Hickam Airfield. 

Pacific Fleet Admiral James O. Richardson shared PFC Eskenazi’ concern. The Admiral told President Franklin D. Roosevelt  that the soldiers based at Pearl Harbor were ill prepared to defend the Naval base. Roosevelt had moved much of the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor to serve as a deterrent to a Japanese attack. 

In February, 1941, shortly after warning Roosevelt, Richardson was relieved of his position.

Nine month later, on Nov. 7, 1941, PFC Eskenazi, recalled, “I was nearly thrown from my bed at 8 a.m.in the morning.”

After running outside his barracks, at Hickam Field, a bomb from a low flying Japanese Val Dive bomber landed 50 feet away from him, but failed to detonate. Moments later, he saw his best friend strafed and killed by a Japanese Zero as he ran from the mess hall,

“To this day, it’s hard to think of him,” Eskenazi said in the remarks read by his grandson.

“Our commanding officer showed up on a motorcycle and asked for volunteers to clear the bombed out railroad tracks so equipment could be brought in to repair the airfield,” Eskenazi said.

As Eskenazi drove a bulldozer across the Hickam airfield to the railroad tracks, bullets sprayed the dirt all around him. When the machine gun stopped, he looked up and saw a lone Zero heading west, the last of the attackers to return to its aircraft carrier. 

Following the attack, Eskenazi said, the country club mentality gave way to feverish work. The soldiers expected the Japanese to attempt a land invasion.

Eskenazai read later that Japanese General Isoroku Yamamot, who orchestrated the attack, expressed fear that he had ‘awoken a sleeping giant.”

“He was right,” Eskenzai said at the end of his remarks.

Following the war, Eskenzai married Vickie, his wife of 74 years, and in 1954 moved to the Redondo Riviera and worked at Los Angeles International Airport.

Over 40 of the couple’s children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and inlaws were present Monday when Redondo Union Marine Corps ROTC cadets Niamh Butler and Joshua Sterling retired the flag that had been flying over the Veteran’s Memorial. They presented it to Marine Corps Major Mario Gasca, who then presented the flag to former Private First Class Joe Eskenazi and his wife.

The Memorial Day Observance was hosted by the Veteran’s Memorial Task Force and the Redondo Beach Elks Lodge.

Flag Day, Veteran’s Day celebrations

Emcee Tom Lasser, a retired Lieutenant Colonel and Los Angeles County Military and Veterans Affairs Commissioner, told the modest gathering the Veteran’s Memorial Task Force is planning a larger celebration for Veterans Day on November 11, when pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Lasser also invited the public to participate in a Flag Day Celebration on Tuesday, June 15, to be hosted by the Redondo Beach Elks Lodge. Dinner will be served at 5 p.m. A ceremony celebrating the American Flag will begin at 7 p.m., followed by a Flag Retirement ceremeony at 7:45 p.m. For more information and dinner reservations call the Elks Lodge office at (310) 372-8488. ER

The Redondo Beach Elks Lodge is located at 315 Esplanade, Redondo Beach. ER

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Written by: Kevin Cody

Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com

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