MOUNT DIABLO -- Three Pearl Harbor survivors briefly turned on the historic beacon atop Mount Diablo on Tuesday, to celebrate the return of the historic landmark that sweeps the night skies each Dec. 7 to remember victims of the 1941 attack.
Crews trucked the 1928 beacon back up the mountain early Tuesday and used a giant crane to delicately swing it into place atop the summit building in Mt. Diablo State Park.
The beacon was in danger of failing to light and rotate due to age, fierce mountain weather and lack of state park maintenance funds.
The Save Mount Diablo conservation group rallied volunteer labor, raised $100,000 and got friendly state legislators to pass a law allowing the group to oversee the restoration.
In the climax to the project Tuesday morning, three Pearl Harbor survivors -- Chuck Kohler and John Tait, both of Concord, and Mickey Ganitch, of San Leandro —— flipped a rebuilt light control to turn on the beacon for a few quick spins.
Kohler, now 89, spoke in a strong, clear voice to 100 invited guests to express his gratitude that the future of the beacon is secure while he is still alive.
"You will never understand how much this means to my fellow survivors and I," Kohler said. "Even though there are just three of us who stand here before you, I guarantee that I feel the spirit of over 2,400 (Pearl Harbor victims) who this beacon comes to represent. I feel their spirit watching down on us today. They are applauding you."
Kohler, a former Minnesota farm boy, was a 17-year-old sailor when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.
The rebuilt control panel for the light was just one of many beacon features that were cleaned, repaired or replaced by volunteers in donated warehouse space in Concord.
"The beacon project involved a tremendous outpouring of community spirit," said Ron Brown, executive director of Save Mount Diablo.
State Park officials initially were unsure how to react to the beacon restoration proposal because the big volunteer project didn't fit neatly into State Park procedures, said Danita Rodriguez, acting superintendent of the park system's Diablo Vista District.
"Government has its procedures," she said, "but we worked together and found a way."
A state bill by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, allowed the volunteer project to be done with oversight from State Park historical experts.
Standard Oil Company bought and installed the beacon on Mount Diablo in 1928 to guide planes in the early days of the aviation industry. The beacon was turned off in 1941 after the Pearl Harbor attack, and turned back on in 1964 for one-night-a-year lighting on Pearl Harbor Day.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.