Pearl Harbor survivor gives Ridgewood students a lesson in history

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

Battalion Sergeant Major Armando “Chick” Galella survived the attack at Pearl Harbor 77 years ago next month, and he shared his story with Ridgewood students on Nov. 19.

Nearly eight decades after that “date which lived in infamy,” the 97-year-old war veteran does multiple speaking engagements a year to educate people about the important part of United States history. On Monday, Galella visited P.S. 81 in Ridgewood to give students a personal account of his wartime experience.

According to Galella, around 375 World War II veterans die every day (most of these veterans are now in their 90s), so the importance of teaching war history becomes more prevalent as the years go on and the number of survivors dwindles.

“I think they should know. There’s only about 600,000 of us left, there’s only about 1,500 Pearl Harbor survivors left out of 880,000. So I try to impress on them that lives were lost in the European theater and the Pacific theater so [they] could be here today,” Galella said.

Galella has been a resident of Sleepy Hollow, formerly known as North Tarrytown, his entire life. Born in 1921, he decided to enlist in the United States Army in 1940 in the midst of the Great Depression.

By age 20, he was deployed and was assigned to the 443rd Signal Corps at Hickam Air Force Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He served five years in the Pacific Theater and went on to earn the rank of Battalion Sergeant Major, the highest rank an enlisted person can achieve.

Galella also earned the Bronze Medal for Meritorious Service and bravery in the Battle of Okinawa. The medal is enshrined in a clear display case which houses his other awards including an Army Good Conduct medal and an Asiatic Pacific Camp medal.

He remembers the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, like it was yesterday. He was reading the Sunday paper after breakfast when the attack began. Galella recalled that the first attack started at 7:55 a.m. when “the first wave of Japanese planes drew across the mountains” and soldiers began dropping bombs on Pearl Harbor.

The next day, Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Germany and Italy then declared war on the United States, and America was thrust into World War II.

The army vet graduated high school in 1939 and attributes much of his successes, including earning the rank of Battalion Sergeant Major, to getting an education. Most of the men he enlisted with did not get far in school and some could not even read or sign their names, according to Galella. He urged the children to “get your education” and “learn how to read.”

“If you don’t read, you don’t learn [anything]. You gotta read, that’s what I tell them,” Galella said. He added that he teaches the lessons that are not found in the textbooks at school.

“Get an education, [it’s] very, very important. Get an education, start now,” Galella told the crowd of 60 fourth- and fifth-graders. “Respect your teachers because you are the future generation of this country.”

At the end of the presentation, Galella handed out American flags to the students which is something he said he does wherever he speaks.

“16 million people lost their lives so you could honor this flag,” he said.

Back in May, Senator Terrence Murphy chose Galella to be inducted into the Veterans Hall of Fame and was honored at a ceremony at the State Capitol in Albany. According to the NY Senate website, Galella’s wife Lena died in 2015 after 65 years of marriage. Together the couple has had two sons, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

His visit was part of a nationwide Take a Veteran to School Day program held on Nov. 16 (the program at P.S. 81 was postponed until Monday due to inclement weather).

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