Vancouver survivor to speak at Pearl Harbor observance

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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photoPearl Harbor survivor Ralph Laedtke shows the quarterdeck entry where casualties picked up by rescue boats were taken aboard the USS Solace on Dec. 7, 1941. The Solace originally was built as a passenger ship, the SS Iroquois. It was sold in 1946 to a Turkish maritime company.

(/The Columbian)

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On Dec. 7, 1941, Ralph Laedtke helped care for some of America's first casualties of World War II.

Laedtke will join other local veterans in sharing memories of that day when they gather to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The former sailor will be the keynote speaker at today's 9:30 a.m. observance in the Centennial Center at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at The Quay, 100 Columbia St.

Some survivors expected to attend this morning's event include Harold Lacy (USS Tennessee) and John Leach (USS California), who were aboard battleships that were primary targets of the Japanese attackers.

The 71st anniversary commemoration is open to the public.

Laedtke was a pharmacist's mate/medical records technician on a hospital ship, the USS Solace, in 1941. After Japanese warplanes and submarines attacked the American military base, he headed for his post.

The hospital ship was not attacked. But as Laedtke climbed an outside ladder to his post, "I could see Battleship Row," he said.

"Battleships were taking bomb hits. A bomb hit the Arizona, and all hell broke loose," the 92-year-old veteran said. "I knew there had to be a tremendous number of casualties."

His immediate job was to help clear space for battle casualties. Later that afternoon, Laedtke was assigned to the morgue, where he prepared death certificates.

The attack killed 2,390 Americans, including 1,177 sailors and Marines who died on the USS Arizona.

There are about a dozen local veterans who were stationed in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. With their numbers dwindling, both local and national Pearl Harbor Survivors organizations have disbanded.

The local survivors' association has handed off its assets and records to the Pacific Northwest Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, a nonprofit group that will continue to hold Vancouver's annual Dec. 7 commemorations.

This morning's event will include a floral tribute that will be cast into the Columbia River. There be a display of mementos and artifacts, as well as a parking lot exhibit of vintage military vehicles.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.