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Vidito, veterans remember World War II on Pearl Harbor Day

The Kentucky Standard - 12/10/2017

Among many veterans in the audience for a Pearl Harbor Day presentation at The Gallery Thursday was a veteran of World War II, Charles O'Bryan, who listened intently as actor and musician Gary Vidito told the story of another Navy man, his father Jewell Marcus Vidito, in his father's words and songs of his generation.

O'Bryan was one of six brothers who served in the war. Two of them were lost aboard the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

Their names are on the war memorial on Court Square.

For O'Bryan, who will turn 91 on Christmas Day, Vidito's father's story and the songs brought back memories, good and bad.

It was a good representation of what things were like at that time, he said.

Vidito, an actor with the Stephen Foster Drama Association for almost 40 years, presented his musical and dramatic performance, "WWII: A Survivor's Story," at the art gallery on Court Square as part of an event sponsored by several American Legion chapters that also included high school student artwork, a presentation of colors and a chili luncheon.

Vidito, dressed in a World War II sailor's uniform, read from his father's memoir of the war. He also played his guitar and sang songs that were performed at USO shows by such entertainers as Bob Hope, Judy Garland, the Andrews Sisters and Frank Sinatra. They included "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" and Old Blue Eyes' "Embrace Me, My Sweet Embraceable You."

Vidito got laughs when he read his father's impressions of how, after he entered the war, the Japanese were losing.

"We beat them at Guadalcanal, we beat them at Midway, we beat them at the Coral Sea," he said. "I liked to think it was because I joined the Navy."

The most important part of his story was about how the troop ship he was on, the Susan B. Anthony, was sunk while delivering G.I.'s to Omaha Beach for the invasion of Normandy in the summer of 1944:

"On the morning of June 7, I had just finished my watch and I was on my way down to have some breakfast and also to get a little bit of shut-eye. But as I descended the stairs, a blast ripped through the ship and threw me up into the air, and I hit my head on the bottom of the deck above me," he said.

No sooner had he fallen back down than another blast hit the ship and threw him into the air again.

The ship had hit two German mines that the minesweeper that had gone before him missed, and it began to list.

Soon the captain's order came to abandon ship.

"Abandon ship? Where was I going to go? Water all around me, and I couldn't swim."

Fortunately, an American destroyer soon pulled alongside the Susan B. Anthony and cast a net to the other ship, and the soldiers and sailors scrambled aboard and were saved.

"I was glad to be alive," he said.

 
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