Pearl Harbor attack survivor Herbert Elfring poses during the annual ceremony at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2022.

Pearl Harbor attack survivor Herbert Elfring poses during the annual ceremony at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2022. (Pacific Historic Parks)

Herbert Elfring, one of the Pearl Harbor attack’s last remaining survivors, died Saturday in Michigan at age 102.

His death was announced Monday in a Facebook post by ONE Stop Veterans Resource, an organization he co-founded.

“After a brief and sudden illness, Herb went up to Heaven,” the post said. “His body weakened, but his spirit did not — he was joking with the nurses, making sure he had his special WWII cap on and asking if his Pearl Harbor shirt was safe in the cabinet right to the end of his earthly time.”

There are fewer than two dozen known surviving veterans of Japan’s surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

Lou Conter, who had been the last living survivor from the USS Arizona, died April 1 at age 102.

Elfring was one of only five veterans Pearl Harbor veterans able to attend a December ceremony in Hawaii commemorating the attack’s 82nd anniversary.

He was raised in South Dakota and Montana, according to a 2021 online biography posted by the Veterans Administration. After graduating high school, he moved to California to attend San Diego State University and joined the California National Guard.

The Guard was activated in 1940, at which time Elfring was deployed to Hawaii with the 251st Coast Artillery at a short-range radar station on Camp Malokole, about three miles from Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of the attack, Elfring heard bombing in the distance but paid it little mind, he said in a 2021 interview with the magazine Michigan Today, published by the University of Michigan.

“I didn’t think too much about it — I thought they were doing maneuvers,” he said in the interview. “Then the first Japanese plane strafed our camp,” Elfring said. “This line of bullets only missed me by 15 feet. When I saw this red ball on the airplane, I thought, ‘My God, that’s a Japanese plane!’ Word got out we were under attack and told to take cover.”

Elfring joined his squad at the beachside radar station, which was strafed by more Japanese planes.

“These bullets missed the radar but severed the power source,” he told Michigan Today.

“We could see the enemy plane, just over the mesquite bushes, coming right at us,” he said. “At the last moment, the track of one Japanese plane shifted ever so slightly, and the line of bullets barely missed me and my crew. To this day, I wonder if the Japanese pilot had a moment of kindness or if the winds had pushed him slightly off course.”

With the declaration of war, Elfring’s unit was deployed to the Fiji Islands, and he was promoted to second lieutenant. He was later deployed to the Solomon Islands.

After attending Officers Candidate School, he was promoted to captain and deployed to the Philippines, where his unit was tasked with protecting the Clark Field airstrip.

Elfring was discharged from the Army in 1945. He received a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, where he met Ruth Royce, whom he married in 1948. She died in 2005.

Elfring had five children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren as of 2021, according to the Michigan Today article.

“His stories of Pearl Harbor were not just tales of a bygone era, but lessons etched with wisdom and a true desire to inspire,” the ONE Stop Veteran Resources post said. “He wanted more than anything to touch the hearts of younger generations, to teach them the value of freedom and the cost at which it comes.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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