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A Tribute to Sterling Robert Cale, Pearl Harbor Survivor

11 March 2024
KANEOHE, Hawaii – A memorial service was held for Sterling Robert Cale at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery, March 7, 2024.
Cale passed away peacefully while surrounded by family at his Aiea home on Jan. 10, 2024. He was 102 years old. During the eulogy, Cale’s grandson Sterling Robert Cale II reflected, “Sterling was an amazing man, father, grandparent, great-grandparent and friend,” he said. “He was always humble, kind and patient.”

According to an article by John Berger, Cale’s son, Sterling Ventula Cale, remembered him as “a humble leader.”

“He is the reason I am the man I am. Growing up with my father gave me that foundation. He taught me all the things that later on I would use in my military career for 23 years, and beyond.”

Cale was born and raised on an Illinois farm. He graduated high school in 1940 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Cale II said, “he graduated 2nd in his class as a Pharmacist Mate and was allowed to choose where he wanted to be stationed. He chose Hawaii.”

The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, less than one year after Cale arrived in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor came under attack. Cale was just coming off watch when he saw smoke and heard gunfire. Cale II said, “[it was] a day he [Sterling Robert Cale] would never forget. When he realized that they were under attack from Japanese planes, he sprung into action to help rescue people trapped in the burning water.”

According to the National Park Service, Cale once said, "In four hours, I picked up about 45 people. Some were dead, some were badly burned, some were just tired. We would get them in a boat going by."

Having served in both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, Cale is a veteran of World War II, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war. Cale left the Navy to join the U.S. Army in 1948. He served in Korea followed by 16 years in Vietnam. After retiring from the Army, Cale returned to Vietnam with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). After Vietnam, he returned home to Hawaii and took a job at the Officer’s Club on Schofield Army Base. “[He] finally retired after 57 years of government service,” said Cale II. But Cale was far from done serving.

“Following his retirement, Sterling volunteered at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. There he interacted with people throughout the world with his stories about Pearl Harbor and [ensured] what had happened there would never be forgotten,” said Cale II.

Cale would sit outside the Pearl Harbor National Memorial bookstore regularly, “where he would meet and greet visitors and tell his stories,” said Jim McCoy, communications director of Pacific Historic Parks. He especially liked to spend most birthdays outside the bookstore.

“It became kind of a tradition that we would have a big banner and a birthday cake … it was a fun time,” said McCoy.

Cale would pose for photos humoring staff and visitors alike with his catch phrase “Ready, aim, fire!”

“It didn’t matter how many times I’ve heard that, I smiled just as much as the people who heard it the first time — it was always fun,” recalled C.R. Drumhellier, commander of American Legion Post 17. “He was animated around the cake, giving fist bumps, and the kids loved it. Moms and dads obviously loved it, too.”

There is now a quiet void where visitors once lined up to shake Cales hand.

“I recently walked by the bookstore. Outside there was nothing where he would usually stand,” said McCoy. “It was pretty quiet and kind of sad, but inside my head I heard, ‘Ready, aim, fire!’”

Sterling Robert Cale is survived by his son Sterling Ventula Cale, daughter Estralita “Lisa” Ventula Cale Hoover and their families.

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