A pause to remember Pearl Harbor

Dec. 07, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

On this day 72 years ago, Lee County’s first casualty of World War II died during what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt soon took to the airwaves to call “a date which will live in infamy.”

Stanley McLeod grabbed a gun, trying in vain to help ward off the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. By the end of the day, he was one of 2,402 U.S. servicemen killed. By the end of the next day, America was at war, and military recruiting offices reportedly had their doors open 24 hours a day to accommodate the rush of patriotic young men.

Today, the local Seven Seas Club — a group of current and former members of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard — are honoring McLeod and all the others killed or injured in that infamous attack with a ceremony at 1 p.m. at the North Carolina Veterans Memorial in downtown Broadway.

Gary Gilliam, a club leader who is organizing the event, said all are invited to attend and reflect on day that launched this country into World War II.

“It’s still [important] to commemorate the memory of it; make sure people don’t forget it was a bad time,” said Gilliam, who served  in the Navy from 1969-91 and retired as a master chief.

He also said that anyone with a Navy or Coast Guard background is more than welcome to join the Seven Seas Club, which meets at 7:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of every month to eat breakfast and listen to a guest speaker. They meet at the Stanley McLeod post — named in honor of the local man who gave his life at Pearl Harbor — of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, located off of Hawkins Avenue at 1500 Webb St.

Gilliam said said Pearl Harbor taught the important lesson that if war is inevitable, the military must take the fight to the enemy instead of allowing an attack on American soil.

“We lost a lot of good people that day, and through the war and all the other wars we’ve been in,” Gilliam said. “But if we have to fight people, I’d rather fight them there than here.”

Killed while firing a Tommy gun at incoming bomber and fighter planes, McLeod — a sergeant with the U.S. Army Air Forces 19th Transport Squadron, which lost 12 men at Hickam field — never had the chance to take his own fight overseas. His four brothers did, however, as all five McLeod siblings served in World War II, according to Sanford City Councilman and history buff Jimmy Haire.

In addition to Stanley, Mike, Sandy, Duke and Rex McLeod all fought in the war, in which 1,100 combatants from Lee County served, Haire said. Rex, the youngest brother, was badly wounded at Iwo Jima but later returned to Sanford, where he was mayor from 1980-93. He died in 2011, the same year his older brother’s last stand was memorialized in at least one historical account.

The book “Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute” at one point describes soldiers rushing into a supply room, dodging exploding shrapnel and busting open locked boxes to grab pistols and bolt-action rifles to try in vain to shoot the Japanese planes down. Outside, the chaos continued.

“Others who fought back included Sgt. Stanley McLeod, who stood on the parade ground, east of the consolidated barracks, firing a Thompson submachine gun, alongside Cpl. William T. Anderson,” author Bill McWilliams wrote. “Both men lost their lives.”

The only known living Pearl Harbor survivor in Lee County is Malcom Laws, who was stationed on the USS Dobbins as an electrician. He couldn’t be reached for comment, but he told The Herald in a 2011 interview that he couldn’t sleep at all the night after, even though he described it as “the longest day of my life.” He also said he had never gone back after returning home to Lee County in 1944.

“I’m just glad to be where I am,” Laws said for a story on the 70th anniversary of the attack. “I know God has taken care of me.”