After several years on hiatus, a program to observe Pearl Harbor Day has again been scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 7 at the Western Nebraska Veterans Home.
“The last local observance we know of was in 2013,” John Brehm, director of the Veterans Service Center for Scotts Bluff and Banner Counties, said. “We got to thinking that we still have some living World War II veterans and we wanted to hear their stories of that day and their time in the service. We wanted to put a more personal face on the observance than just news on the television because it changed their lives.”
The program starts at 9:30 a.m. at the Western Nebraska Veterans Home in Scottsbluff and is open to the public. Six World War II veterans and a Korean veteran are scheduled to speak.
One of those veterans from World War II is Alexander Kukas, known to his friends as Al. He was only 17 on Dec. 7, 1941, but he remembers the day well.
Kukas was living on the family farm northeast of Scottsbluff near Tubbs Springs. That particular day he was helping his neighbors beat back a brush fire.
“We spent the entire day trying to put the fire out with wet gunny sacks,” Kukas said. “Once we got it under control, I headed home for a shower because I wanted to attend a dance that evening at the VFW.”
It wasn’t until he got to the VFW that Kukas found out about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Kukas is the second youngest of five brothers and his elder siblings were all in the military.
“I tried getting into the Navy but was rejected because of my eyesight,” he said. “So I spent the next summer working for a contractor in South Dakota where the military was building an ammo depot. Later that year they moved me to Scottsbluff where I helped out at the county airport.”
When he turned 18, Kukas got his notice he would soon be drafted. He went to the recruiter when he learned he could pick his branch of service if he signed up.
Still, he had to wait for his official draft notice, which came soon after he turned 19. His service lasted for 33 months, with 22 of those spent overseas.
Because he could drive a truck, Kukas signed up with the Army Corps of Engineers. At first the military sent him to cooking school, which he hated. It had nothing to do with the duties assigned to Corps of Engineers members.
But with a transfer to Wendover Field in Utah, he became a member of the 467th Bomb Group in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which was later shipped to Europe.
The biggest campaign Kukas took part in was in December 1944 — the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive, which became the bloodiest battle the Americans fought during the war. By then, he was part of the 106th Infantry Division and had earned the rank of corporal.
After the German surrender, Kukas spent most of his time with a driver inspecting the sprawling stockade that housed some 45,000 German prisoners of war.
Al was later sent back to France to await repatriation. That came in November 1945 and on Dec. 2, he arrived in New York.
“I was still 21 years old, but I got a pretty good education when I was a kid,” he said.