This Year, 6 Survivors Returned to Pearl Harbor

They were joined at remembrance ceremony by thousands of members of the public
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 7, 2022 7:40 PM CST
Survivors Return to Pearl Harbor for Remembrance Ceremony
Ira Schab, 102, right, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as a sailor on the USS Dobbin, talks with reporters while sitting next to his son, retired Navy Cmdr. Karl Schab, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

A handful of centenarian survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor joined about 2,500 members of the public at the scene of the Japanese bombing on Wednesday to commemorate those who perished 81 years ago. The audience sat quietly during a moment of silence at 7:55am, the same time the attack began on Dec. 7, 1941. Sailors aboard the USS Daniel Inouye stood along the rails of the guided missile destroyer while it passed both by the grassy shoreline where the ceremony was held and the USS Arizona Memorial to honor the survivors and those killed in the attack, the AP reports. Ken Stevens, a 100-year-old survivor from the USS Whitney, returned the salute.

"The everlasting legacy of Pearl Harbor will be shared at this site for all time, as we must never forget those who came before us so that we can chart a more just and peaceful path for those who follow," said Tom Leatherman, superintendent of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. About 2,400 servicemen were killed in the bombing, which launched the US into World War II. The USS Arizona alone lost 1,177 sailors and Marines, nearly half the death toll. Most of the Arizona's fallen remained entombed in the ship, which sits on the harbor floor. Herb Elfring, 100, of Jackson, Michigan, was pleased that many members of the public showed interest in the commemoration and attended the ceremony. "So many people don't even know where Pearl Harbor is or what happened on that day," he said.

Ira Schab, 102, was on the USS Dobbin as a tuba player in the ship’s band. He recalls seeing Japanese planes flying overhead and wondering what to do. "We had no place to go and hoped they’d miss us," he said. He fed ammunition to machine gunners on the vessel, which wasn’t hit. He's now attended the remembrance ceremony four times. "I wouldn't miss it because I got an awful lot of friends that are still here that are buried here. I come back out of respect for them," he said. Schab stayed in the Navy during the war. After the war, he studied aerospace engineering and worked on the Apollo program. He wants people to remember those who served that day. "Remember what they’re here for. Remember and honor those that are left. 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 more who have traveled to Hawaii from across the country for the annual remembrance ceremony in recent years. Part of the decline reflects the dwindling number of survivors as they age. The youngest active-duty military personnel on Dec. 7, 1941, would have been about 17, making them 98 today. Many of those still alive are at least 100. The US Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have statistics for how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still living. But according to department data, of the 16 million who served in World War II, only about 240,000 were alive as of August, and some 230 die each day. There were about 87,000 military personnel on Oahu at the time of the attack, according to a rough estimate compiled by military historian J. Michael Wenger.

(Read more Pearl Harbor stories.)

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