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'INFAMY' TIMES TWO FOR U.S. PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE ENEMY.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

Sixty years ago today, planes carrying the Imperial Japanese rising sun insignia filled the skies over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, during a sneak attack that killed 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians.

Just short of six decades later, Arab terrorists in hijacked jetliners killed hundreds more than that in a stunning aerial attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

``Never underrate your potential enemy,'' warned Leon Kolb, 83, of North Hollywood, who survived the capsizing of the battleship USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor. ``Never trust what they may do.''

It's a lesson the remaining survivors of the ``day that will live in infamy'' will repeat today at Pearl Harbor memorial services in Hawaii and across the nation.

At 10 a.m. today, Kolb will join Van Nuys American Legion Post 193 in a memorial service at Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Veterans Memorial Park in Sherman Oaks.

``We should never forget what happened,'' said World War II veteran Seymour Rosen, 77, of Toluca Lake, whose Wabash Saxons social club will be holding a separate memorial for Pearl Harbor veterans today.

``Young people should learn their history and never forget the sacrifices made by their grandfathers and their fathers to keep this country free.''

Torpedoes had just ripped open the USS Oklahoma when Kolb, then a 23-year-old petty officer first-class gunner's mate, remembered the diamond ring he'd stashed for his would-be fiancee in a locker below deck.

The 29,000-ton battleship had listed to starboard. Bullets pinged off its 14-inch guns.

``It's like a horrible nightmare had come true,'' Kolb recalled. ``I thought we were getting hit by other battleships. I never dreamed that torpedo planes could attack the harbor ... It felt like the ship would rise and fall with each explosion.''

Bombs fell on neighboring ships.

And Kolb, wearing white shorts and a regulation U.S. Navy T-shirt, was ordered out of the ship's magazine by men who wouldn't survive the day.

Then he remembered his ring - followed by a biblical injunction never to look back - and scrambled to safety over the rising port gunwale.

``I saw a picture of Lot's wife turning to go back, she turned into a pillar of salt,'' he said. ``And I took that as God's message: Don't go back. If I had, I would have been buried in salt water with the rest who had gone down.''

The attack lasted 12 minutes. Of the 1,300 sailors on the USS Oklahoma, a third were lost.

That day, eight U.S. battleships were damaged, three destroyed and the USS Oklahoma capsized. The USS Arizona lost about 1,200 sailors and is now a sunken memorial to the attack.

While the memory of Pearl Harbor faded after the war - with friendship with Japan and America's guilt over interning Japanese-American residents during World War II - critics say that has changed.

``Pearl Harbor,'' last summer's blockbuster movie, renewed appreciation of American sacrifice, while the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks renewed patriotic fervor.

``This year is going to be a different ... Pearl Harbor Day,'' said James ``Jack'' Solomon, a social critic and English professor at California State University, Northridge.

``There has been a renewed sense of nostalgia and pride ... and indignation of attacks, verbal or otherwise, on the country. And that's completely understandable.''

``I think because of the awareness this year, and with the movie, it'll be a much bigger celebration of life and of the military in general,'' added Cindy Forte, 45, of Canyon Country, whose father, Joseph Ceo, of the USS Aylwin, survived Pearl Harbor.

Lucille Kolb, now 90, once a witness to the 1917 Russian revolution in St. Petersburg, never got her engagement ring. Instead, she married her never-look-back survivor, and they had children, grandchildren and a great-grandchild. ``I lost the ring, but got the girl,'' Kolb said. ``I keep promising her we'll have our 60th (wedding) anniversary next April.''

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Leon Kolb, now 83, recalls losing his fiance's engagement ring as he fled the capsizing USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 7, 2001
Words:678
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