More than 70 residents attended the HEARTS Museum’s Pearl Harbor Day potluck dinner this past Tuesday, an event that traditionally serves not only to commemorate the 2,400 plus men that died on Dec. 7, 1941, but also to update local residents on the activities of what board chairman Richie Harris referred to as the “only veterans museum in Texas.”

 The ceremony was marked by deep expressions of gratitude, both for the sacrifices of veterans past and present and also for the community support that the museum has enjoyed since its inception in the early 1990s.

That support was on full display Tuesday night, as a series of speakers updated the community on events and activities honoring veterans.

Bobby Crowson, a former Army Airborne Ranger, reminded the public about the upcoming Wounded Warriors Banquet, which will take place Jan. 13, 2011.

Following the success of last year’s benefit, which raised $37,000, Crowson said, was the sale of special commemorative coins to raise funds for those wounded while serving.

Longtime volunteers Sam and Marie Martinez contributed several updates, beginning with their ongoing efforts to provide troop care packages, an endeavor they have undertaken regularly for the past several years.  Marie Martinez also took time to present Marine Corps veteran Herman Shirley a birthday cake for his 91st birthday, before showcasing one of many quilts adorned with the message “Our Hero” that will be sent to soldiers rehabilitating in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Harris offered an update of his own.  One year after presenting plans to add an Educational Pavilion on the museum’s grounds, Harris announced that the pavilion was complete and ready for use.

He was most emphatic, however, in his praise of the museum’s volunteers.

 Referring to them as “everything to this organization,” Harris credited them with much of the Museum’s success over the years.

One such volunteer, Ed Duke, opened the evening with a reading of the poem “Freedom is Not Free.”  Written by a Florida high-school student in 1981, the poem’s closing stanza begins, “I thought about a graveyard at the bottom of the sea,” a vivid reminder of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“It’s a great poem,” Duke said, “especially one written by a high-school student.  The first time I read it, I got so choked up I couldn’t tell my wife about it.”

Duke also performed a “White Table Ceremony,” a ritual created by the River Rats during the Vietnam War.  Employing an unoccupied table to highlight those left behind and unable to attend occasions such as the Museum’s Pearl Harbor Day dinner, Duke dedicated the ceremony to “all MIAs, KIAs,and POWs.”  After repeatedly imploring guests to “Remember,” Duke punctuated the ceremony’s theme by closing with the admonition that a “soldier is not dead until he is forgotten.”

Although Dec. 7 is not a federal holiday, citizens have long marked the day for those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  On Aug. 23, 1994, Congress designated Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.