Gilbert, MN -
Every year for the last ten years, Dave Anderson travels to the Gilbert VFW where tribute is paid to Pearl Harbor survivor Arleigh Birk. Here is this year's version of a CBS 3 tradition.
As taps played on Pearl Harbor Day 2019, 99 year old Arleigh Birk of Hoyt Lakes mind went back 80 year to when he joined the Navy rather than the Army at age 19.
"I didn't want to walk so I joined the Navy" said Birk.
December 7 1941 found Birk aboard the USS Honolulu at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked.
Birk had planned to go ashore that day and take pictures for friends back in North Dakota.
Instead, he dropped his camera and went to his battle station as a gun director.
"My battle station was air aft sky two." said Birk.
The cruiser Honolulu quickly started returning fire.
"We saw lots of them get hit but you couldn't tell who it was. It could have been ours There was lots of people shooting at them. You don't know" said Birk.
After the attack, everyone expected a Japanese land invasion but the only action that night was the downing of an American plane that was flying in a restricted area.
"Oh that pilot was mad. But he was wrong. He shouldn't have been coming up where he was."
After Pearl Harbor, Birk was assigned to another cruiser, USS Denver, where he was part of many more battles including one where the ship was hit by an enemy torpedo and nearly sunk.
The end of the war in 1945 found Birk and the Denver of Okinawa.
"For ten years now, it has been my tradition to interview Arleigh every Pearl Harbor anniversary.
Now just shy of 100 years old, several things have changed for the old veteran in the last year." said reporter Dave Anderson.
His beloved wife Marion passed away a few months ago.
County commissioner Tom Rukavina who promised to redo Arleigh's driveway as a 100th birthday present has passed away, too.
And Arleigh has since moved into a nursing home.
But one thing that remains the same is the commitment Arleigh Birk's fellow Iron Range veterans have to remembering Pearl Harbor and Arleigh every year.
"You have to remember, Otherwise you are going to repeat the past." said Vietnam era Navy vet Mick Thompson.
Birk will turn 100 in February. He and a Coast Guard veteran in Bemidgi are believed to be the only Pearl Harbor survivors left in Minnesota.