Experience

Culver hosts Pearl Harbor tribute

Jeff Kenney
 

Local resident Jim DeWitt honored

 

December 8, 2021

Culver Academies assisted in paying tribute to the last known Indiana resident to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Dec. 7 ceremony also marked the 80th anniversary of the event that catapulted the United States into World War II, famously described by President Franklin Roosevelt as one “which will live in infamy.”

The Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors of Northern Indiana sponsored the ceremony in Culver’s Memorial Chapel. Honored was Culver resident Jim DeWitt, age 100, an eyewitness to the Pearl Harbor attack from the USS Antares, having enlisted in the Navy in 1939.

 

Color Guard opening the ceremony. (photos/Paul Ciaccia)

 

Several of the boarding school’s students participated in the ceremony. The Color Guard was comprised of Eamon Seeley ’24, Patrick Greene ’24, Aidan Ji ’24, Raluchi Obioha ’24, Dionte Obertein ’24, Kevin Zhang ’24, and Peter Wang’23. CGA Senior Prefect Mikel Alvis and Aide to Administration Ally Barath ’22 placed wreaths at the foot of the altar and buglers Max Gifford ’22 and Will Ricketts ’23 played taps. Several Culver students attended the public ceremony and met DeWitt after the event.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Antares was towing another ship to Pearl Harbor when the USS Selfridge detected a submarine following the Antares. As it turned out, it one of more than 30 Japanese subs watching American ships that day, ahead of the aerial attack.

A destroyer, the USS Ward, sank that submarine though, inexplicably, no crews were called to battle stations. During the attack that followed, Japanese planes strafed the Antares and DeWitt and other crew members were ordered below deck.

The full impact of the devastation didn’t hit Dewitt until he went to visit his brother – who had not been wounded but had contracted jaundice – in the hospital at Pearl Harbor the following day. DeWitt says he remains haunted to this day by the sights, sounds, and smells he experienced relating to those wounded in the attack. 

Jim Dewitt served six years in the Navy. He and his wife Mary, now deceased, eventually purchased a bowling alley and restaurant located on Lake Shore Drive in Culver. The DeWitt family became beloved members of the community during the decades they operated the business.

 

Students meet Jim DeWitt after the ceremony.

 

In more recent years, DeWitt has become a defacto spokesman on behalf of the many who served in World War II, primarily at Pearl Harbor. He was honored among a small handful of other Pearl Harbor veterans at the 2011 70th anniversary of the bombing, when he was invited back to Hawaii and featured prominently in a documentary about the experience. 

He has been featured in numerous newspaper articles, websites, and interviews, including in a documentary film on the History Channel, which can be viewed online. He’s also been an honored guest at several events commemorating Pearl Harbor and veterans in general, including at the 2016 Indianapolis 500 centennial celebration. DeWitt was invited to return to Pearl Harbor in honor of the 75th anniversary of the event in 2016.

Culver’s Memorial Chapel was an appropriate venue for Tuesday’s event, having been dedicated in 1951 to the memory of those graduates of Culver Military Academy who gave their lives in World War II, though that intent has since expanded to include the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Global War on Terror.

One of those graduates, and one of the five CMA graduates to receive the Medal of Honor for his service, lost his life on Dec. 7, 1941. George Ham Cannon ’34 was the first U.S. Marine to receive the nation’s highest military award in World War II. First Lt. Cannon died on Midway's Sand Island after he refused to abandon his post while severely wounded until his men were evacuated and his command post reorganized. His Medal of Honor hangs in the Great Hall at Sally Port on Culver's campus.

Jeff Kenney is the director and historian for the Culver Academies Museum. He has interviewed Jim DeWitt for The Culver Citizen.

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