‘We felt our whole existence was at stake’

As was predicted more than seven decades ago, today lives on in “infamy.”

At 7:55 a.m. on this day in 1941, Japanese fighter planes began sweeping over a Hawaiian military base, dropping bombs on unassuming civilians and service members. For nearly two hours, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor continued.

By the time invading planes stopped bombing, 2,388 Americans were dead, and 1,178 were wounded. Twenty-one ships sank or were heavily damaged, and more than 320 aircraft were destroyed or badly battered.

Within days of the strike, in a speech before Congress to declare war against Japan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” Historians recognize Pearl Harbor as the tipping point leading up to U.S. involvement in World War II. It’s widely considered the moment that christened the “Greatest Generation.”

The attack launched the country into the deadliest conflict of all time. Sixty-two million people were killed in World War II, and 37 million of them were civilians. Nearly 200 were from McHenry County.

Eugene Entrican, 93, remembers how the entire country rallied behind the war and supported the cause, even if it meant upending their own lives.

The Crystal Lake resident was in his early 20s when he joined the Army just after the Pearl Harbor blitz. Entrican served 3½ years overseas, or as he puts it “three Christmases,” stationed in Australia or the Philippines.

“The whole country was working together,” Entrican said. “The wives and mothers were working in war plants, and there was all kinds of rationing going on. ... We felt our whole existence was at stake.”

He later added: “World War II was a 100 percent effort from the whole country.”

Entrican met his wife, Dolores, when he was home for a short leave after finishing basic training. The young couple were married in 1943, but never took a honeymoon. So on their 25th anniversary, Eugene took his bride to Hawaii to visit Pearl Harbor memorials.

“I’ve been there six times since,” Entrican said.

Just last year, the veteran was treated to an Honor Flight to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

At Pearl Harbor, Entrican visited the USS Arizona Memorial for a vessel upon which more people died than on any other ship. In total, 1,177 service members died aboard the Arizona.

The memorial, built above the sunken remains of the ship, served as a reminder of Entrican’s service and the commitment of those aboard the ship or who sacrificed in the war.

“It was quite an experience,” he said. “It’s quite a monument.”

As his peers continue to age, there are fewer people to tell the stories of the “Greatest Generation.”

But there are those, such as Barbara Klapperich, who have made it their mission to ensure people never forget. Klapperich grew up hearing World War II memories from her father and uncle. The Johnsburg resident has a small treasure trove of her family’s military memorabilia, which she brings to local elementary schools.

“We pass this on to children so they don’t forget World War II,” Klapperich said. “We tell the children that if they don’t ask their grandparents what they went through, this piece of history will be gone.”

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