Ninety-eight-year-old Pearl Harbor vet Mickey Ganitch got down into his three-point stance at the White House on Thursday to show how he was going to take it to the battleship Arizona team if war hadn't interrupted football on Dec. 7, 1941.
At a Roosevelt Room ceremony to honor six Pearl Harbor veterans from the Army and Navy, President Donald Trump said former Senior Chief Quartermaster Ganitch and his shipmates from the battleship Pennsylvania were getting ready to play the Arizona crew for the fleet championship on that Sunday morning when the Japanese attacked.
Trump asked: "Where's Mickey? You never got that game, huh?"
No, Ganitch said, "We had a war to fight."
For a moment, Ganitch, of San Leandro, California, was again that tough kid he was in 1941, ready to charge the line.
Despite his two walking canes, Ganitch got down into his three-point stance. "I'm ready to go, in case we play that game," he told Trump.
"Look at you. You look beautiful," Trump said. "Boy, oh boy. That's pretty -- can you do that one more time for me? I can't believe it."
Ganitch did it again.
"Boy, that's -- I'm not playing him in football," the president said.
Trump signed a proclamation for the 76th "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day" and recalled the battle cry "Remember Pearl Harbor," which rallied the nation after the Japanese attack devastated the Pacific Fleet.
Ganitch remembered and sang a verse from a popular Sammy Kaye tune of the time: "Let's remember Pearl Harbor, as we go against the foe..."
The five other Pearl Harbor veterans at the ceremony were Navy Flight Engineer Jack Holder; Army Pvt. Alexander Horanzy, Army Pvt. Lawrence Parry, Seaman 1st Class Robert Fernandez, and Army Staff Sgt. George Blake.
Horanzy, 96, of Philadelphia, was at the Army's heavily bombed Schofield Barracks during the attack. He would go on to fight the Japanese in the jungles of New Guinea.
In a ceremony in Texas in 2015, Horanzy said, "I feel very lucky for the opportunities I've had to serve my country."
Blake, 96, of Salida, Colorado, dodged bullets from strafing Japanese aircraft while at a Coastal Artillery Battery on shore.
"George, George, thank you George," Trump said. "That was a pretty wild scene. You'll never forget that, right?"
In an interview in October with the Colorado Mountain Mail, Blake said he was 19 years old when he went to his father and asked what he thought about joining the Army.
His father said, "Not much." Blake joined anyway.
He was on his way to a gym to play basketball when the low-flying Japanese aircraft roared overhead. "We saw the red balls on the planes; we knew they were Japanese," he said.
On the 70th anniversary of the attack, Blake wrote a poem:
"Now when I with reverence attend the December memorials once again;
I gaze at the list of those who died and with pent emotions I have cried;
the tears I shed upon my cheek pose the question I seek -- why you and not me?"
Fernandez, 96, of Phoenix, Arizona, served on the seaplane tender Curtiss. At a previous commemoration, he recalled, "We were the only ship in the harbor that day that was hit by a plane."
The Curtiss had shot down a Japanese plane, which crashed into her No. 1 crane. The Curtiss was also hit by a bomb that exploded below decks, killing 19 sailors.
After repairs, the Curtiss went on to serve in operations at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan and Guam.
Parry, 97, of Syracuse, New York, carried ammunition to the gunners that day at Fort Armstrong, near Pearl Harbor.
He told the Syracuse Post Standard in 2004 that he was playing pickup football at the barracks and had just gotten up from being tackled when he saw the planes overhead.
At the White House ceremony, Parry had a message for Trump.
"In thinking about the lessons of Pearl Harbor, Larry said he hopes 'we can build up the military again,' " the president said.
Trump responded, "We are building up the military beyond what you ever thought. It got depleted. You know what happened over the last quite long period of time, but not with us."
Holder, 97, of Phoenix, Arizona, then a 19-year-old Navy aviation machinist mate second class, was on Ford's Island when the bombs came down as a section leader began roll call.
Holder recalled last year, "We all ran and jumped in the ditch."
Then a bomb hit the hangar next to them. "All of our aircraft were parked," he said. "Half of them were on fire.
"Between the two attacks, I watched the Arizona, the West Virginia, the Tennessee, the Nevada, the Oklahoma, the California, all on fire, all sinking," Holder said of the ships on "Battleship Row."
"I've been asked a million times, I guess, what my thoughts were at that time, and I guess my most vivid memory is 'God, please don't let me die in this ditch,' " he said.
Holder went on to serve as a flight engineer on a PBY5-A Catalina, what was then called a "flying boat."
"I survived Pearl Harbor. I then went to the battle of Midway. I was in the second aircraft response to [the] Japanese fleet approach in Midway," he said.
In all, he flew 48 missions over the Solomon Islands. He then trained on B-24 Liberator bombers and was sent to the European theater, where he flew another 56 missions over the English Channel.
At the ceremony, Trump said Ganitch had a problem getting to his battle post on board the Pennsylvania because he was still in his football gear.
As Ganitch tells the story, the Pennsylvania team was supposed to leave the ship at 8 a.m. to get to the field and warm up for the game against the Arizona team at 1 p.m.
But at 7:55 a.m., general quarters was sounded. Ganitch ditched his helmet and cleats but had difficulty getting to his post aloft in the crow's nest.
He still had his football shoulder pads on. "The shoulder pads made it difficult to get through the trapdoor," he said, but he made it.
Ganitch was standing closest to Trump when the president mentioned that "Remember Pearl Harbor" became the battle cry for the war.
Ganitch saw that as his cue. He belted out the song, never missing a word:
"Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
As we go to meet the foe.
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
As we did the Alamo.
We will always remember
how they died for Liberty.
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
And go on to victory!"
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.