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Pearl Harbor survivor, last to see airfield bombed, dies at 94

By THE PLAIN DEALER, CLEVELAND (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE) Published: August 13, 2017

CLEVELAND, Ohio — John Seelie, a Cleveland native and Pearl Harbor survivor who was believed to be the last surviving veteran to witness the attack on Wheeler airfield there, died Friday morning in Port Charlotte, Florida.

He was 94 and a resident of Englewood, Florida. His death in Tidewell Hospice was reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which said the cause was cancer.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete but were being planned for Cleveland, a friend told the Herald-Tribune.

Seelie was 18 when he enlisted in the Army at Fort Hayes in Columbus, according to a Facebook page maintained for him by a daughter. A member of the 25th Infantry Division's 65th Engineer Combat Battalion, he had just reported for guard duty at Schofield Barracks, near Honolulu, when Japanese planes began bombing the adjacent airstrip, Wheeler Field, on Dec. 7, 1941, during the larger attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II.

"They were 75 feet off the ground. You could see the Japanese pilots' faces clearly," he told an interviewer. "We grabbed our M-1 rifles and our redesigned steel helmets we had just been issued, a couple of .30 caliber machine guns and ran outside ... We started firing at the planes. Whether we knocked an enemy plane down, nobody knows."

Seelie landed on Guadalcanal with the 25th Division in August 1942, survived combat there and on New Georgia Island, and was discharged in June 1945 after a nearly fatal battle with malaria.

He made several pilgrimages to Pearl Harbor, including a final journey for the 75th anniversary last year. He also returned to Guadalcanal with a group of veterans in 1992 for the 50th anniversary of the battle.

His survivors include two daughters and two sons. His wife, Betty, died in 2008.

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©2017 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

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