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With five USS Arizona crewmembers remaining, it’s ‘twilight’ for Pearl Harbor survivors

The battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) memorial, as seen from the air in July, 2018.

ARTHURGWAIN L. MARQUEZ/U.S. NAVY

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: December 4, 2018

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — It’s extra noteworthy that Everett Hyland, who was aboard the USS Pennsylvania during Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, will return the salute of a passing Navy warship at Friday’s anniversary of the attack.

Hyland, 95, will do so on behalf of all Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans as the ship sails by the sunken USS Arizona.

That salute will be extra poignant because there are fewer and fewer survivors to render it themselves.

For the first time in many years, not a single USS Arizona survivor will be present for the 7:50 a.m. 77th commemoration on the back lawn of the Arizona Memorial visitor center.

In total, 1,177 men were killed and more than 900 remained entombed in the battleship.

Just five crewmembers are still alive: Lauren Bruner, 98, Lonnie Cook, 98, Ken Potts, 97, Lou Conter, 97, and Don Stratton, 96. Old age and failing health prevented even a single Arizona survivor from making the lengthy trip to Oahu this year.

Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial, called it a “twilight” for the Pearl Harbor generation.

“We’re lucky to have five Arizona survivors left,” Martinez said. “At their age of 95-plus, it’s remarkable that they’ve had that longevity, and it keeps us still secured to the idea that someone could tell us what happened — because they witnessed it.”

But those eyewitnesses are “fading right before our eyes,” he said.

Longtime Honolulu resident Ray Emory, who fired back at attacking Japanese planes with a .50-caliber machine gun from the USS Hono­lulu, and who spent decades trying to identify Dec. 7 casualties buried as “unknowns” at Punchbowl cemetery on Oahu, died in August at age 97.

In the two-hour attack, about 2,455 men, women and children were killed. The total included 2,390 American servicemembers and Oahu civilians, 56 Japanese aviators and up to nine Japanese submariners.

Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command on Oahu, will deliver the keynote speech at the commemoration, whose theme is “Forging the Future” and highlights events in 1943, the second year after the attack.

That year “was a time in which the United States for the first time in the Pacific, in particular, and in Europe could sense a turning point,” Martinez said. The road to Tokyo was being embarked on, he said.

Conter, who helped with the wounded on the stricken Arizona and later flew PBY Catalinas, getting shot down twice, made it out to Pearl Harbor at least the past 15 years to remember his fallen shipmates.

“It’s hard to walk up those steps and look at those names there and know what happened,” the Grass Valley, Calif., resident said of the names of the fallen inscribed in the shrine room of the Arizona Memorial.

But he and lots of family each year made the trip, nevertheless. Conter said he wanted to come out this year, too, and made reservations. But the effects of a hospitalization sidelined him.

“My doctor said, ‘Lou, damn it, you’re old. It takes twice as long to get well — so remember that,’ ” Conter said in a phone interview.

Stratton, another Arizona crewmember who was there for the Pearl Harbor anniversary last year, was one of six men saved by climbing hand over hand on a rope tied to the repair ship USS Vestal as flames consumed the Arizona.

The Colorado Springs, Colo., resident won’t be making the trip for the first time in 11 years because his wife, Velma, 92, doesn’t feel able to make the long journey, said son Randy.

All the traveling “really makes them so tired and exhausted by the time they get back,” Randy Stratton said. “It takes a week for them to recoup from all that.”

Still, about 40 World War II veterans — nearly half of whom are Pearl Harbor survivors — are expected, the Navy said.

About 1,375 chairs — roughly the same as last year — will be set out on the visitor center back lawn. A moment of silence will be observed at 7:55 a.m., about the time the attack began. A “missing man” flyover will be conducted by Hawaii-­based F-22 Raptor fighters.

Extensive repairs needed to the dock servicing the memorial put a halt to walk-on visits starting in May, and survivors will not be able to set foot on the memorial this Dec. 7. The dock is not expected to be back in service until at least March.

Several of the Navy launches now used to ferry visitors on a tour of Battleship Row will be used for survivors and families to present a floral tribute adjacent to the sunken battleship.

Military band and other musical performances are scheduled today through Thursday, and a “live dive” on the Arizona will be broadcast starting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the visitor center theater.

More information is available at pearlharborevents.com.

©2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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