Pearl Harbor survivor, Gold Star Moms share experiences at Clayton’s Memorial Day ceremony

Gold star moms and Pearl Harbor survivor share experiences at Clayton's Memorial Day ceremony
Gold Star Mom Roxane Langavin of Walnut Creek remembered her son, Army Cpl. Sean A. Langevin. The 23-year-old died in an ambush in the mountains of Afghanistan a few months before the birth of his daughter. (Photo by Don Downey)

CLAYTON, CA (May 30, 2023) — Clayton resident Chuck Kohler was 18 when, as a young serviceman, he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. At 100, he still speaks with a strong voice when called to various veteran events.

On Monday, Kohler was the guest of honor at Clayton’s Memorial Day ceremony. On Dec. 7, 1941, Kohler had risen early and gone to a personnel office to figure out how to type a letter home. He didn’t know if he had permission so was worried. Then he heard aircraft flying overhead soon followed by an explosion that injured him with shattered glass.

In the following chaos, without any direction from leadership, he and some other soldiers found a 50-caliber machine gun, which he had never trained on, and used it to fire back at the attacking planes. He recalls that as he fired the gun he became “a great target. The machine gun bullets splattered around me but I guess none of them had my name on it.”

Kohler said, “I stand before you in remembrance of over ten thousand other American Military individuals, Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Army Air Corps, and Coast Guard who like myself was on the island of Oahu that morning and survived that event but who have since passed on. I’m sure that all of you know the phrase that says there is no greater love than that of those who would lay down their lives to protect another. That’s what our military members do each and every day.”

“As we honor those who have paid the ultimate price, maybe we also ought to take a few moments to think of those among us who pay a daily price. Remember those of us who will forever bear the burdens of those visible or invisible wounds of war.”

Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister said, “It was my honor to be with Chuck Koehler today. This day is for our fallen service personnel. Thank you, VFW Post 1525, the Auxiliary Blue Star Moms, and Gold Star Families for a beautiful remembrance program.”

Linda Pinder of Clayton called Kohler’s speech “very inspiring. He said he expects to be here again next year since he is only 4 months into his 100th year.”

Reading of the names

Lt. Col. Michael Hudson, USMC retired, stood before a fallen warrior monument assembled in Clayton’s Grove park. The monument, better known as the Battlefield Cross, includes a helmet, boots and an inverted rifle, symbolizing fallen service members.

Hudson read the names of fallen soldiers from the Vietnam war. Afterward, a US Marine sergeant in attendance hung the service tags of those soldiers on the Battlefield Cross. Hudson then read the names of local soldiers killed since 9/11. Family members present hung their service tags on the cross as well.

Gold Star Moms

Yolanda Vega from Lafayette spoke about her son, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jonathan Vega-Yelner, who was killed in action in 2008. He was 24.

“Those of us standing here are called Gold Star Mothers. And when I tell people that I’m a gold star mother, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Gold star means you’ve won a prize. ‘Oh, how wonderful!’ [they will say]. Well, no, no, not wonderful. My son was killed in Afghanistan. ‘Oh no! Oh, that’s terrible.’ You know, the best thing to say to us is ‘I am so sorry for your loss.’ That’s it. That’s all you have to say. You don’t have to worry. And you don’t have to see us at Safeway and turn the corner, so you don’t run into us. You don’t have to do that. We say their names all the time because we don’t want them to be forgotten.”

Make a difference

Mary Tollefson remembered her son, U.S. Army PFC Ben Tollefson, who died in Iraq in December 2008.

“Ben joined the army for a variety of reasons and knew what he was signing up for,” Mary said. “One of the last conversations we had, he told me not to be worried. ‘Don’t be sad. Go out into the world and do great things and make a difference in the world.’ So while we mourn our loss, we’re also so proud of their sacrifice. Our sons and daughters wanted their lives to be about something bigger than themselves. They wanted to make a difference. I would challenge you all today to go out and make a difference in your world.”