Hawaii remembrance draws handful of Pearl Harbor survivors

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) – A handful of centennial survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Wednesday joined about 2,500 members of the public at the site of the bombing of Japan to remember those who perished 81 years ago.

At 7:55 in the morning, the spectators sat in silence for a moment when the attack began on December 7, 1941.

Sailors aboard the USS Daniel Inouye stood along the rail of the guided missile boat as it passed both the grassy beach where the ceremony was held and the USS Arizona Memorial to honor those who survived and died in the attack. Ken Stevens, a 100-year-old survivor of the USS Whitney, saluted.

“The eternal legacy of Pearl Harbor will always be shared at this site, as we must never forget those who came before us so that we can chart a more just and peaceful path for those who followed,” said Tom Leatherman. superintendent of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.

About 2400 soldiers were killed in this bombing, which launched the US into World War II. The USS Arizona alone lost 1,177 sailors and Marines, nearly half the number killed. Most of the Arizona’s dead remained on board, sitting on the harbor floor.

Ira Shabb, 102, was on the USS Dobbin as a tuba player in the ship’s band. He remembers seeing the Japanese planes overhead and wonders what to do.

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“We had nowhere to go and hoped they would miss us,” he said before the ceremony began.

He gave ammunition to the machine gunners on the ship, which was not hit.

He has now participated in the memorial service four times.

“I’m not going to miss it because I have a lot of friends who are still here who are buried here. I’m going back to honor them,” he said.

Shab stayed in the Navy during the war years. After the war, he studied aerospace engineering and worked on the Apollo program. Today he lives in Portland, Oregon.

He wants people to remember those who served that day.

“Remember why they are here. Remember and honor the rest. They did a hell of a job. Those who are still here, dead or alive,” he said.

Only six survivors attended, fewer than the dozen or so who have traveled from across the country to Hawaii for the annual memorial service in recent years.

Part of the decline reflects a decline in the number of survivors as they age. The youngest active servicemen would have been 17 years old on December 7, 1941, and today there are 98 of them. Most of those still alive are at least 100.

Herb Elfring, 100, of Jackson, Michigan, said it was great that so many members of the public showed interest in the memorial and attended the ceremony.

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“A lot of people don’t even know where Pearl Harbor is or what happened that day,” he said.

Elfring was in the Army, assigned to the 251st Coast Artillery, part of the California National Guard. He remembers hearing bombs go off a few miles off the coast of Pearl Harbor, but thought it was part of a drill.

But then he saw a red ball on the fuselage of a Japanese Zero fighter plane that crashed next to him outside his barracks at Camp Malakole.

“It was a rude awakening,” he said. According to him, one soldier of his unit was wounded by bullets, but no one died.

Robert John Lee recalls being a 20-year-old civilian living in his parents’ house on a naval base where his father ran a water pump station. The house was located just 1 mile (1.6 km) across the harbor from where the USS Arizona was docked.

The first explosions before 8 am woken him up and he thought it was the wind blowing the door. He got up and screamed that someone closed the door and looked out of the window at the Japanese planes that were dropping torpedo bombs from the sky.

He saw the USS Arizona’s hull turn a deep orange-red color after being hit by an aerial bomb.

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“Within a few seconds, this explosion went up with huge tongues of flame right on top of the ship itself, but it was hundreds of feet up,” Lee said in an interview Monday after a boat tour of the harbor.

He still remembers the crackling sound of the fire.

To escape, the sailors jumped into the water from their burning ships and swam to the landing near Lee’s house. Many were covered in the thick, heavy oil that covered the harbor. Lee and his mother used Fels-Naptha soap to wash them. The sailors who managed to board the small boats that took them back to their ships.

“Very heroic, I thought,” Lee said of them.

Lee enlisted the next day in the Hawaii Home Guard and later in the US Navy. He worked for Pan American World Airways for 30 years after the war.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs does not have statistics on how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still alive. But the department’s data shows that of the 16 million people who served in World War II, only about 240,000 were still alive as of August, and about 230 die each day.

According to the information compiled by the military historian J. Michael Wenger, there were about 87 thousand military personnel in Oahu at the time of the attack.


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