The living history of Pearl Harbor survivors in northern Illinois has ended with the death of 97-year-old Zion resident and Navy veteran Joe Triolo.
Triolo spoke to recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Station and was a regular at Pearl Harbor observances, including last Dec. 7 at the Prairie Lakes Theater in Des Plaines.
"We gather here for a purpose, not just another occasion," he said during a roughly seven-minute address. "I'm not complaining. I'm proud of my country and have no regrets of any day that I ever served."
A contingent from the naval station, including sailors and officers, is expected to attend the visitation at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Queen of Peace Church, 910 14th St., North Chicago. Mass will follow at 10 a.m.
Triolo grew up in a coal mining community in West Virginia but wanted to do something else and enlisted in the Navy. He served 21 years and retired as a chief boatswain's mate.
He was aboard the USS Tangier in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, bringing the U.S. into World War II.
The Tangier was a seaplane tender and wasn't targeted by the Japanese. It was 8 a.m. when "all hell broke loose," Triolo recalled last December. The crew had become accustomed to alarms and had to be told it was not a drill.
Triolo said he watched as the battleship USS Utah was bombed and sunk. He was firing a .50-caliber machine gun at the attacking planes and, like others who were there, said the Japanese were flying so low they could see the pilot's faces.
"We were just trying to survive," Triolo recalled. "People all over the place. Some injured, some not. Some dead. Some alive."
Triolo's mission was to keep the memory alive, especially for young people, said Eric "Rick" Miller, who co-founded Northern Illinois Survivors 17 years ago after the death of his father, who also was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack.
"Real humble. He was always stressing we've got to keep teaching the youngsters," Miller said of Triolo.
But there are very few with firsthand knowledge left to do that. Elgin resident Everitt Schlegel, 98, was the lone Pearl Harbor survivor honored at a luncheon last December in Aurora.
As recently as eight years ago, Miller said, he had been sending about 40 newsletters. Triolo was the last of that group.
Mike Lake, commander of Des Plaines VFW Post 2992, has worked with Miller over the years. He said Triolo arrived in a wheelchair for the event but stood up and walked to the podium.
"He was sharp. He had it all together," Lake said.
In his speech, Triolo cautioned attendees to pay attention to whom they elect and what those officials do.
"Just keep in mind when you come here to honor people, you honor them for what they've done, not what they gathered," Triolo said.
"For what they've done. And be proud of your country. I am," he concluded to a standing ovation.
After his naval career, Triolo earned a college degree and became a teacher and counselor in the North Chicago district for 21 years. Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Katherine, whom he met while stationed at Great Lakes.
Instead of flowers, donations should be made to the charity of one's choice in Triolo's name.