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Honoring all those who served

11/06/2017 11:21AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Sam Waltz presented a program about his work to vindicate two commanders who were unfairly scapegoated for the Pearl Harbor attack. Here, he is seen with an early newspaper headline that underestimated the actual death count.

Gallery: Veterans Breakfast [6 Images] Click any image to expand.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The warm spirit of patriotism is the same each year at the Veterans Breakfast held by the Kennett Area Senior Center. On Nov. 3, veterans from many branches of military service sat down at brightly decorated tables to reminisce, share stories and take note of the passing of time.

After members of American Legion Post 491 presented the colors and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, members of the Avon Grove Charter School Music Department performed a program of patriotic and nostalgic music, including hits that the older veterans knew well – “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Stardust” and others – some sung by skillful vocalist Kaleigh Kahan.

Senior Center program coordinator Andea Durynski introduced the guests at the breakfast, who included Rep. Eric Roe, Sen. Tom Killion, and both Jane Donze and Al Iacocca, who were coming to the end of hard-fought campaigns for District Judge.

State Rep. Steven Barrar spoke to the crowd, touching on the current controversy over football players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. “You have a right to protest,” Barrar said, “but not while the anthem is playing. We stand out of respect for our country, because the flag represents our people and our veterans. I would like to thank all of our veterans here today.”

The featured speaker at the event was Sam Waltz, who spearheaded a campaign to vindicate two commanders who were publicly scapegoated after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Between 1998 and 2002, Waltz, a public affairs executive, Army veteran and former DuPont employee, worked to clear the names of Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short.

In the buildup to the 1941 attack that killed 2,402 Americans and wounded 1,282 others, both Kimmel and Short were aware of the possibility of an attack, but they were focused on potential sabotage from Japanese agents, not an aerial attack, Waltz said. Planes at the Pearl Harbor base had been grouped together to protect them from enemy agents, which ended up making the destruction from the air bombardment as extensive as it was.

In his extensive research on the attack, “I got a Ph.D. in Pearl Harbor,” Waltz said, smiling.

He cited a coded message that was intercepted by U.S. intelligence on the eve of the attack. The message was intended for the Japanese Embassy in the United States, “and it told them to start burning files,” Waltz said. “So there is an indication that Roosevelt knew of an impending attack, but that was not communicated to commanders in the field.”

As the attack stunned the world and Roosevelt sought the authority to declare war, Kimmel and Short were blamed for not being prepared, even though there was no way for them to have information about the impending attack. A quick investigation led by Roosevelt singled out the two commanders, who were placed on desk duty, condemned in the press, and retired within a few months. Roosevelt passed away in 1945 before he could have possibly vindicate the two generals.

The families of both men carried the burden for decades. In the 1990s, Waltz met Ned Kimmel, the son of Admiral Kimmel, who lived in Wilmington and also worked at DuPont.

Although a Presidential pardon was not achieved, by 2000, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had voted to vindicate the two commanders.

For his part, “How often do you get a chance to touch history?” Waltz said. “I feel blessed to have worked with the son of Admiral Kimmel to vindicate both the Admiral and the General. … The government had perpetuated a stain on their reputations, their honor and their character.”

In 1999, the Senate called for a reinstatement of the men's ranks. “I look at that day, May 25, 1999, as one of the most touching moments in my life,” Waltz said. “I watched with Ned on C-Span as the Senate voted to vindicate his father.”

The campaign won the public affairs industry's highest honor, the Silver Anvil for Public Affairs in the Non-Profit category, in 2000.

Later in the program, during his invocation prayer, Rev. James Mundell said, “From our founding fathers, you moved upon us, the people of the United States, to establish this great nation. You stirred us to hope and to dream for a land of freedom. … You have given us brave and loyal men and women who have steadfastly served in their chosen branch of our military. We gather today to honor and remember them. We acknowledge that their service enables us to walk as free men and women in this great land.”

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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