Sur­vivors gather at Pearl Har­bor

20 vet­er­ans of 1941 at­tack gather to pay re­spects

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Au­drey McAvoy

PEARL HAR­BOR, Hawaii — About 20 sur­vivors gath­ered at Pearl Har­bor on Fri­day to pay trib­ute to the thou­sands of men lost in the Ja­panese at­tack 77 years ago.

They joined dig­ni­taries, ac­tive duty troops and mem­bers of the pub­lic in observing a mo­ment of si­lence at 7:55 a.m., the time the bomb­ing be­gan on Dec. 7, 1941.

John Mathrusse was an 18-year-old sea­man sec­ond class walk­ing out of the chow hall on Ford Is­land to see a friend on the USS West Vir­ginia when the bomb­ing be­gan.

“The guys were get­ting hurt, bombs and shells go­ing off in the wa­ter. I helped the ones that couldn’t swim, who were too badly in­jured or what­ever and helped them to shore,” said Mathrusse, now 95.

Mathrusse, who trav­eled to Hawaii for the event from Moun­tain View, Calif., re­mem­bers car­ry­ing in­jured peo­ple to the mess hall and set­ting them on mat­tresses grabbed from the bar­racks above.

Robert Fer­nan­dez, who was as­signed to the USS Cur­tiss, re­calls be­ing pet­ri­fied.

“I was kind of ner­vous too. I was scared. I was 17. I went to go see the world. What did I get into? A war,” he said.

The 94-year- old from Stock­ton, Calif., re­turns for the an­nual re­mem­brance each year be­cause he’s now alone af­ter his wife died four years ago.

Adm. Phil Davidson, com- man­der of the U.S. In­doPa­cific Com­mand, said the na­tion can never for­get the heavy price paid on that day. He cited 21 ves­sels dam­aged or sunk, 170 planes de­stroyed, more than 2,400 peo­ple dead, in­clud­ing ser­vice­men and civil­ians.

“De­spite these losses, it did not break the Amer­i­can spirit. In fact, it charged it,” he said in a key­note ad­dress.

The sur­vivors are de­clin­ing in num­ber as they push well into their 90s, and are in­creas­ingly treated as celebri­ties. They say peo­ple ask for their au­to­graphs and re­quest to take pho­tos and self­ies with them.

“I am given a lot of at­ten­tion and honor. I shake hands con­tin­u­ously,” said Tom Berg, who lives in Port Townsend, Wash. Berg, who is 96, served on the USS Ten­nessee.

This year, no sur­vivor from the USS Ari­zona at­tended the cer­e­mony as none of the men were able to make the trip to Hawaii.

The Ari­zona sank af­ter two bombs hit the ship, trig­ger­ing tremen­dous ex­plo­sions.

The Ari­zona lost 1,177 sailors and Marines, the great­est num­ber of ca­su­al­ties from any ship. Most re­main en­tombed in the sunken hull of the bat­tle­ship at the bot­tom of the har­bor.

There are now only five USS Ari­zona sur­vivors still alive: Lau­ren Bruner, 98, Lou Con­ter, 97, Lon­nie Cook, 98, Ken Potts, 97, and Don Strat- ton, 96.

The Ari­zona Repub­lic in 2014 vis­ited all re­main­ing USS Ari­zona sur­vivors — there were nine still alive at the time — and pub­lished ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with the ag­ing vet­er­ans. What emerged were mov­ing sto­ries and re­mem­brances of an at­tack that had al­tered their lives.

Most could still re­call vivid de­tails about that Sun­day morn­ing, though a few, even decades later, could not bring them­selves to talk about their fel­low ship­mates who hadn’t es­caped.

For years, el­derly sur­vivors of the USS Ari­zona faith­fully re­turned to Oahu to par­tic­i­pate in cer­e­monies to re­mem­ber the at­tack.

As in past years, Fri­day’s events in­clude mil­i­tary fighter planes fly­ing over the har­bor in a “Miss­ing Man” for­ma­tion and the ring­ing of the USS Ari­zona bell.

One sur­vivor, Ken Potts, de­scribed the me­mo­rial to the at­tack in Oahu — the World War II Valor in the Pa­cific Na­tional Mon­u­ment — as “one of the best ac­tual me­mo­ri­als I’ve seen,” ac­cord­ing to the Repub­lic.

Ray Chavez, pre­vi­ously the old­est known sur­vivor, died less than three weeks ago in his sleep, at age 106. In May, Chavez had vis­ited Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in the White House.

The Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­uted.

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