Angelo DiLiberti was a young teenager lying on his living room floor just outside Buffalo, N.Y., when the moment that set the course for his life occurred.
He was listening to his favorite radio show when an announcer broke in with news of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
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"We all jumped up," DiLiberti said. "We were just standing there looking at one another. It was shock. Nobody was expecting anything like that."
Neither were the 2,000 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor Navy base on Dec. 7, 1941. The bombing attack lasted less than four hours, but that was long enough to draw the United States into World War II and inspire DiLiberti for the rest of his life.
For years, DiLiberti has campaigned all around the country for the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack to be a national holiday. The anniversary hasn't achieved that status yet, but Saturday does mark the official National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. And this past Monday, DiLiberti, an active member of American Legion Post 342 in St. Charles, received a proclamation from St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina to honor the occasion.
When he was 17, with thoughts of the attack and the subsequent loss of two high school friends to Japanese POW camps, DiLiberti volunteered for the Army.
"I knew when the attack happened, I was going into the military," DiLiberti said. "I wanted to enlist that same day as Pearl Harbor. I listened to the news all the time after that. Every day for about the first six months were just stories of us getting beat because of our lack of preparedness. But about six months later (at the Battle of Midway), our good, old Navy came back and did a job on the Japanese. I was at what you would call an impressionable age, but I was big enough to understand what was going on."
DiLiberti came of service age in time only for the final two years of the conflict. But his military career would eventually see him through World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam before he retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Upon receiving his plaque in St. Charles on Monday, DiLiberti asked for all his fellow World War II veterans present to stand up and be recognized. He was the only veteran on his feet.
He doesn't always stay that way. Approaching age 90, DiLiberti still goes sky diving on occasion. When he does, he sometimes recalls the attack that led to his sky diving skills.
"Pearl Harbor solidified the country," DiLiberti said. "Women went to the factories. Boy Scouts collected scrap metal. When you needed toothpaste, you turned in the old, soft tin tubes of your used batch so they could use the metal in the war. Everybody pulled together like a bundle of glue.
"So I'm not one of those guys who remembers Pearl Harbor as a defeat. It was a disaster, but it inspired and unified all of us. The Japanese and Germans looked at everyone in America as dancing the Charleston and being a decadent society that only cared about having a good time. But within 3½ years, we beat two of the most powerful military machines on the face of the Earth. It's important to remember all of that."