Seventy years ago today, the United States suffered what was, at the time, the most devastating foreign attack on U.S. soil (until September 11, 2001). Survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack are dwindling, so much so, that the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is being dissolved on January 1st. But for remaining survivors, the horrific images of that day remain burned forever in their memories.
The youngest Pearl Harbor survivors are in their late 80s, and the Navy estimates that about 3,000 survivors are living. Many went on to serve the U.S. military for a number of years before returning to civilian life and starting families. If you seek them out, you'll find that survivors are willing to share their memories of this devastating day in history, and if you have survivors in your midst, take the opportunity to ask them to share their stories.
Some survivors are living in the suburbs of major cities, in quaint neighborhoods in townhouses or condos, and even in assisted living facilities. Ted Gregory, of the Chicago Tribune, caught up with three local survivors in honor of this day of remembrance.
"The Naval History & Heritage Command reports that 2,403 Americans were killed — 1,177 on the USS Arizona – and 1,178 wounded. In less than two hours, the Japanese sank or damaged 21 ships and destroyed or damaged nearly 350 aircraft," Gregory states in his powerful article.
Powerful stories from survivors
Dean Garrett, now 91, was a 20-year-old surgical assistant at the time of the attack, and spent three consecutive days and nights working in the hospital. The attack began shortly before 8:00am on December 7th, and by 9:00 that evening, the 250-bed hospital had treated an astonishing 900 patients. Garrett continued to serve at Pearl Harbor for about a year after the attack, working to identify remains of fallen soldiers.
Ed Block was wounded during the attack when the USS Johnston was sunk, spending 57 hours in the water. "The 'worst part,' he recalled, 'was hearing men scream when they were pulled under by the sharks,'" Gregory reports. Block earned a Purple Heart for his service and wounds. Jack Barry, who was attending Mass in Honolulu when the Japanese struck, gathered a group of military intelligence officers, obtained weapons, and opened fire on Japanese fighter planes from a rooftop. Barry was also awarded a Purple Heart on Guadalcanal -- an incident he refuses to discuss.
Gone but never forgotten
While survivors are dwindling in number, descendants of survivors are taking action to ensure this day in history is remembered as more than just a paragraph or a chapter in a high school history textbook. Rick Miller and Bob Miller, sons of survivor Clarence "C.J." Miller, now deceased, have taken over the Northern Illinois chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, continuing the organization's newsletter and taking public speaking engagements to promote the continued remembrance of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Do your part
If you work with seniors, have a loved one who was serving on December 7, 1941, or have access to a local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association chapter, do your part to keep the memory alive. Talk with them. Ask them to share their stories. Document it. Encourage others to do the same. These brave men and women have powerful stories to share, memories that are gone when they're gone unless someone takes the time to ask.