PUNTA GORDA — Navy Rear Adm. Larry Chambers was just 12 when he heard over the radio that his country was under attack.
It was a typical Sunday: He went to church with his family, his grandmother made dinner, and the family tuned to the Gospel Hour. They then heard the Japanese military had attacked Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.
At the time, Japanese diplomats were in Washington, D.C., negotiating a non-aggression treaty. “I was confused and angry,” Chambers said. His grandpa called the Japanese “cowards.”
After high school, Chambers, now 90, was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy the first year it was desegregated. He was the second African American to graduate from the academy and went on to become the first African American to command a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
Fast forward 78 years. Now retired, Chambers, joined by the Military Heritage Museum and the U.S. Navy League Sun Coast Council, celebrated Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Saturday at Punta Gorda’s Tiki Bar with a special wreath laying ceremony in Charlotte Harbor. He spoke to veterans and Navy League Sea cadets about how the “day that will live in infamy” impacted not only him and his family, but the entire country.
To remember that day, 10 boats, escorted by the Punta Gorda Police Department, traveled out in the harbor. Former U.S. Army Capt. Todd Helt played Taps on his bugle. Then 20 orchid leis were spread out in the water, each in honor of service members.
One was for Punta Gorda’s Bailey brothers, who served in the military during World War II and the Korean Wars. Another threw their flowers in the water in honor of all of those who have served.
As for Chambers and his wife, Sarah Jones-Chambers, they laid their flowers for Bedford County, Virginia, which lost the most men per capita during World War II.
Each person removed the string, and just released the flowers of the lei due to the strings not being biodegradable.
“Remember what happened at Pearl Harbor,” Chambers told the young sea cadets. “Remember the brave patriots who died there. Honor their lives and their sacrifices, and make sure they did not die in vain.”
The museum’s next event is its Bob Hope Christmas Gala Dec. 20 and 21. To learn more information, call 941-575-9002.