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Armando "Chick" Gallela, 93, lays a wreath at a monument to William Horan at Horan's Landing in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., on Friday. Dec. 6, 2013. Horan and Gallela were boyhood friends and both were stationed at Pearl Harbor. / Joe Larese, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. -- You wouldn't describe it as a ceremony. Missing were the crowds of years past, and the flag-bearing color guard and the band playing the national anthem and the politicians making speeches.

Friday was more personal than all of that. The lone old soldier stood silently for a moment, paying tribute to a friend who was left forever young by a strafing Japanese fighter plane.

Pulling his jacket closed against the cold drizzle, Armando "Chick" Galella said a quick prayer, crossed himself and laid a Christmas wreath donated by the Sleepy Hollow Garden Club at a plaque in Horan's Landing. It was Galella who pushed to have the park by the Hudson River named after John "Sully" Horan, who was killed at Pearl Harbor 72 years ago Saturday.

Finished with his melancholy task, the 93-year-old Galella stood up, straightened his white Pearl Harbor Survivor's Association cap and stared toward the choppy, gray river. And he remembered.

"We had just finished breakfast in the mess hall at Hickam Field, and John was talking about a Christmas party he was organizing. He was walking back to his barracks and I was going to mine when, Boom! Boom! Boom! We heard the planes and saw the smoke across the way at the Pearl Harbor navy base. John started running to the air field and I ran to the motor pool to move the equipment."

His voice trembled a little, and he quickly wiped a few tears from his blue eyes.

"That's the last time I saw John," said Galella, who is believed to be the Lower Hudson Valley's last living Pearl Harbor veteran. "It really does seem like yesterday."

Horan, 23, was the first of 2,202 men and women from Westchester County to be killed during World War II.

"I didn't find out until the next day," Galella said. "I went back to the airfield, and they told me John had grabbed a machine gun and was getting ready to fire when he was hit. We were friends as kids. He was a little older than me, and he was a great athlete - played football and basketball and ran track. We were neighbors. Our moms were friends. And he gave his life that day. He's been my hero ever since."

Galella, a member of the Army's 53rd Signal Corps, spent the next four years "island hopping" across the Pacific and fighting in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He left the service in 1945 as a command sergeant major, having earned the Bronze Star and a number of other awards.

He came home and worked at a Chevrolet dealership for 35 years, retiring in 1965. He and his wife of 66 years, Leda, raised two sons and now enjoy two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Galella has served as a village trustee and deputy mayor, was active in the Boy Scouts, sponsored a softball team, Chick's Whippets, has held all of the offices at the volunteer fire department's Pocantico Hook & Ladder Co. 1, served as a trustee and usher at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church and is active in the village Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

He frequently speaks at schools about Pearl Harbor and the war, he said, "because the kids especially need to realize that people gave their lives so that we can be free. They're not just names in books - they were regular, real people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country."

"Pearl Harbor is a day I'll remember for as long as I live," he said. "It's always a hard day for me, because I know how we suffered and how so many were killed. They're the real heroes, and they should never be forgotten."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: For survivor, Pearl Harbor seems 'like yesterday'

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