SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. Armando Chick Galella was coming out of the mess hall around 7:45 a.m. at Hickam Field on Dec. 7, 1941 when he saw planes making a sweep from the naval base at Pearl Harbor to the base at Hickam.
All hell broke loose. We could see the Japanesethey were so low you could see the circles, he said, referring to the painted Japanese flags on the planes. I said 'We're being attacked. What the hell's going on?'
Galella, 90, had been stationed in Hawaii in signal corps for about a year when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 70 years ago. The Sleepy Hollow native and Bronze Star recipient immediately ran to move communications equipment from the base so it wouldn't get destroyed.
Decades later, Galella is still telling his experiences from that day and the rest of World War II to students throughout the area. Galella said he does this because it's important for students to understand the sacrifices that his generation made. He said he wants students to realize they shouldn't take anything for granted.
Forty five million lost their lives in World War II, he said. I try to impress that upon them. Freedom is not free. You got to earn it.
Galella graduated from North Tarrytown High School, now the Winfield L. Morse Elementary School, in 1939. He signed up for the Army in 1940 with five others from the Village when he realized he would be drafted anyway.
I told mom 'I'm going to get drafted, might as well join the Army and spend my time and come home,' he said.
Galella ended up in Hawaii with John Horan, a friend from Sleepy Hollow who joined the Air Force. When the Japanese attacked, Galella said they separated.
He went one way, I went another way and John got killed that day, he said.
Galella stayed in the Pacific for about five years until he earned enough points to come home. His two other brothers were fighting in Europe while his mother stayed in Sleepy Hollow.
For a while, Galella got by on the G.I. Bill's $20 a week provision, or the 52-20 Club. He then worked as a salesperson for a car dealership.
Galella married in 1947. He smiled as he noted that the pair is still married today and will be celebrating their 65th anniversary in September. Galella has two sons, three grandchildren and a great-grandson.
He doesn't consider himself a hero.
All the heroes have crosses. I am no hero, he said. That's when I get too emotional because it means so much. Sometimes they don't realize how many crosses are out there.
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