Pearl Harbor survivors return to honor those who perished – Orange County Register

By Audrey McAvoy and Claire Rush | Associated Press

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Ira “Ike” Schab had just showered, put on a clean sailor’s uniform and closed his locker aboard the USS Dobbin when he heard a call for a fire rescue party.

He went topside to see the USS Utah capsizing and Japanese planes in the air. He scurried back below deck to grab boxes of ammunition and joined a daisy chain of sailors feeding shells to an anti-aircraft gun up above. He remembers being only 140 pounds (63.50 kilograms) as a 21-year-old, but somehow finding the strength to lift boxes weighing almost twice that.

“We were pretty startled. Startled and scared to death,” Schab, now 103, said at his home in Beaverton, Oregon, where he lives with his daughter. “We didn’t know what to expect and we knew that if anything happened to us, that would be it.”

Eighty-two years later, Schab returned to Pearl Harbor Thursday on the anniversary of the attack to remember the more than 2,300 servicemen killed. He was one of five survivors at a ceremony commemorating the assault that propelled the United States into World War II. Six of the increasingly frail men had been expected, but one got sick, organizers said.

The aging pool of Pearl Harbor survivors has been rapidly shrinking. There is now just one crew member of the USS Arizona still living, 102-year-old Lou Conter of California. Two years ago, survivors who attended the 80th anniversary remembrance ceremony ranged in age from 97 to 103. They’ll be even older this time.

David Kilton, the National Park Service’s interpretation, education and visitor services lead for Pearl Harbor, noted that for many years survivors frequently volunteered to share their experiences with visitors to the historic site. That’s not possible anymore.

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“We could be the best storytellers in the world and we can’t really hold a candle to those that lived it sharing their stories firsthand,” Kilton said. “But now that we are losing that generation and won’t have them very much longer, the opportunity shifts to reflect even more so on the sacrifices that were made, the stories that they did share.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t keep statistics for how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still living. But department data show that of the 16 million who served in World War II, only about 120,000 were alive as of October and an estimated 131 die each day.

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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.

Schab never spoke much about Pearl Harbor until about a decade ago. He’s since been sharing his story with his family, student groups and history buffs. And he’s returned to Pearl Harbor several times since.

The reason? “To pay honor to the guys that didn’t make it,” he said.

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Thursday’s ceremony was held on a field across the harbor from the USS Arizona Memorial, a white structure that sits above the rusting hull of the battleship, which exploded in a fireball and sank shortly after being hit. More than 1,100 sailors and Marines from the Arizona were killed and more than 900 are entombed inside.

A moment of silence began at 7:55 a.m., the same time the attack began on Dec. 7, 1941.

Harry Chandler, 102, who was a Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class, raised the flag at a mobile hospital in Aiea Heights in the hills above Pearl Harbor as part of the commemoration. Gazing over the water from his front row seat on the ceremony grounds, Chandler said the memories of the USS Arizona blowing up still come back to him today.

“I saw these planes come, and I thought they were planes coming in from the states until I saw the bombs dropping,” Chandler said. They took cover and then rode trucks down to Pearl Harbor where they attended to the injured.

He remembers sailors trapped on the capsized USS Oklahoma tapping on the hull of their ship to get rescued, and caring for those who eventually got out after teams cut holes in the ship.”I look out there and I can still see what’s going on. I can still see what was happening,” said Chandler, who today lives in Tequesta, Florida.

The Dobbin lost three sailors, according to Navy records. One was killed in action and two died later of wounds suffered when fragments from a bomb struck the ship’s stern. All had been manning an anti-aircraft gun.