Holiday display in Lodi honors Pearl Harbor survivor Delton Walling

Larry and Tony Hamilton, joined by neighbors and volunteers, have created a 35-foot statue of Pearl Harbor survivor and World War II veteran Delton Walling of Valley Springs. The display - lit by Christmas lights - includes a re-enactment of a portion of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Hamiltons hope the Christmas display at Harney and West lanes will raise awareness for the Pacific Project Heroes organization, which supports veterans and first responders who have been wounded or gone through traumatic experiences in the line of duty. (Courtesy photograph)

At 7:48 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the tensely guarded peace that the United States had carved out during the first two years of World War II were shattered.

A surprise attack by Imperial Japan on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into war. Without warning or a formal declaration of war, more than 350 Japanese military planes swept over the naval base in two waves, damaging eight U.S. Navy battleships, sinking four, along with damaging or sinking three cruises, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, a minelayer, and more than 180 planes.

More staggering was the human toll. At least 2,403 Americans — sailors, soldiers and civilians — were killed in the attack, and more than 1,100 were wounded.

Delton “Wally” Walling, a signalman in the Navy, wasn’t yet on duty when he witnessed the attack from a communication tower on Ford Island, a tiny islet in the center of Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii. He was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock at Pearl Harbor during the attack.

Walling thought he was going to die that day, he told Stars and Stripes, a U.S. military newspaper, in December 2017.

“I didn’t know they were only after the ships,” he said.

If the Japanese military had realized that the Ford Island tower was serving as the communications center that day for the commander of of the Pacific Fleet, he doubts he would be here today, he told Stars and Stripes.

But Walling survived, and now lives in Valley Springs. He’s written a memoir — “The Life History of Wally Walling: A Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Story,” which he dedicated to those lost in the attack as well as the Marines who were lost on the island of Tarawa — and celebrated his 97th birthday in May 2018 by skydiving at the Lodi Parachute Center.

And few years ago, during a veterans lunch, he met Larry Hamilton. The two quickly became friends, Larry’s son Tony Hamilton told the News-Sentinel on Thursday.

For years, the Hamiltons created massive Christmas light displays out of welded re-bar at their Walnut Grove home. Before taking a hiatus from the projects in 2009, projects included a Statue of Liberty, a bald eagle and a soldier, all more than 30 feet tall.

“Wally said, ‘Wow, that would be really cool if you could do that for me,’” Tony Hamilton said.

So the Hamiltons brought their project back this year — but they decided to go a bit further. Along with a massive statue depicting Walling, Larry Hamilton envisioned an entire scene paying tribute to the survivors and fallen at Pearl Harbor.

The statue and scene — complete with synced audio — will be unveiled at a special ceremony on Saturday. Along with getting the first look at the patriotic Christmas display, guests will enjoy a special prayer and hear guest speakers from the Pacific Project Heroes.

“We’ve never done an actual event and opening ceremony,” Tony Hamilton said.

This is also the first time they’ve focused on raising awareness for a specific organization — the Pacific Project Heroes. The nonprofit group is one that Walling has supported for some time.

Pacific Project Heroes supports veterans and first responders who have been wounded, especially those with traumatic brain injury, along with those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They do so through programs like Rivers of Recovery, which uses outdoor-based therapy techniques to help veterans with physical and psychological injuries, and Vets4Veterans, which helps former military members return to civilian life.

The location has changed as well. Jeff Renison, who owns the property where the Hamiltons’ business All Save Energy is located, is hosting the display. He even helped to cut some of the medals for the statue, Hamilton said. The neighboring business has offered parking space, and several other neighbors and friends have turned out to help Larry as he constructed the scene and statue over the past 10 weeks.

A crew of about a dozen volunteers helped install all the lights over the past week.

“The crane put up the statue this morning, so it’s up,” Tony Hamilton said Thursday.

It’s been a group effort, he said, and the Hamiltons are grateful for the help.

Meanwhile, he and a couple of friends have been working on automating the light show, a more complicated endeavor than in past years.

Because the Pearl Harbor scene isn’t just static. Instead, over about 8 minutes, lights and audio turn it into a reenactment of a portion of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“We don’t have any mechanical motion,” Hamilton said.

One friend pulled audio from a recent film about Pearl Harbor, and Hamilton edited it down to the 8 minute mark.

Another friend has been writing custom software to synchronize the lights to the audio file.

“She spent hours and hours doing it,” Hamilton said.

It’s been a learning curve to figure out how to get the lights’ controllers to do things they weren’t ever designed for, he added.

They’re still fine-tuning it, he said, but they’re determined to have everything running smoothly by Saturday.

“Wally, he’s got veteran friends from all over the country,” Hamilton said. And a few of them are coming out for the kickoff, one flying from Idaho and another from the upper Midwest.

“The pressure’s on!” he said with a chuckle.

Hamilton has also been putting in extra hours at the family business to free up Larry so he work on the project.

“My dad’s really passionate about this,” he said.

Hamilton is just happy to be able to do contribute to something so important to his dad — and to Wally.

“He’s beside himself. He’s really excited,” he said of the veteran. “He’s quite a character. And humble.”

Walling went to great lengths to be able to serve in the Navy at all, Hamilton said. He even had a finger surgically removed just to join up. An old injury had left his finger frozen, making him unable to pass the physical, but a missing finger wasn’t a problem.

But Walling doesn’t consider himself a hero, Hamilton said. He reserves that word for his 2,403 brothers and sisters who died in the attack, and the others who gave their lives in service during World War II.

“He’s a living legacy,” Hamilton said.

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