LAUREL — This Wednesday marks the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Friends of the Yellowstone National Cemetery held their annual Pearl Harbor Day Ceremony in Laurel, honoring vets who have died and those still living in the community, like Laurel resident Dale Lamphear.
Lamphear, 98, is one of the few remaining World War II vets left in Montana, and he still remembers his time in the Pacific like it was yesterday.
He joined the Navy when he was 17 and was assigned to the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in 1944.
“I forget how many thousands of miles we put in on that thing in those couple of years and all the ammunition we fired,” Lamphear said on Wednesday.
The USS Pennsylvania carried Lamphear and hundreds of other servicemen across the Pacific, attacking Japanese forces in places like Guam, Saipan and the Philippines.
“The Japanese had airplanes on a lot of those little islands that hadn’t been wiped out so they would go down there, and there would be like 8, 110, 15 planes assigned to dive bomb us or torpedo us,” said Lamphear.
That’s just a glimpse of the harrowing experiences he and so many others endured. The USS Pennsylvania was torpedoed by Japanese forces in Okinawa, opening an approximately 30-foot hole in the ship.
“They were able to save that ship by the other ships coming alongside and using their pumps and hoses, and to pump the water out as it was coming in as the divers went around and sealed up the hole in the back of his ship,” said Lamphear’s son, Dale Lamphear Jr.
After two years and two months in the Navy, Lamphear was discharged. He ended up marrying his wife Emma nearly 75 years ago. He moved to Great Falls sometime later to work for the Great Northern Railway.
“I worked 37 years for the railroad. I retired in 1987,” Lamphear said.
At one point, he was even mayor of Plentywood in eastern Montana for eight years. Now that Lamphear is retired, he reflects on the time he spent in the Navy and the people he met during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.
“I can’t think of one person that I was in the service with that I had any close ties to that’s alive today. They’re all gone,” said Lamphear.