View Full Version : Fewer survivors to tell of Pearl Harbor's heroes

12-08-08, 08:07 AM
Web Posted: 12/08/2008 12:00 CST
Fewer survivors to tell of Pearl Harbor's heroes
By Colin McDonald - Express-News

FREDERICKSBURG — It was another beautiful morning at Pearl Harbor. The Navy uniform for the day was shorts and T-shirts. Sailors were finishing breakfast. Marines were preparing to raise the flags.

“Duty in Hawaii was peaceful and calm,” said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. “It was great duty.”

Then the explosions started.

“I thought it was some sort of exercise the Navy was doing,” said Middlesworth, who was a Marine on the USS San Francisco. “Frankly, it looked a little dangerous.”

More than 100 survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, gathered this weekend in Fredericksburg. Hosted by the National Museum of the Pacific War, the three-day event included a parade, a small air show and several banquets and brunches. Throughout the weekend, those wearing the garrison cap with “Pearl Harbor Survivor” embroidered on the side received standing ovations when they entered restaurants, were treated to flyovers by F-16 fighter jets and World War II vintage aircraft and were asked to sign history books.

“It's a chance to meet the greatest generation,” said Steve Williamson, who drove up from San Antonio for the event. “It's just brave men who really served our country.”

Williamson carried a copy of “Pearl Harbor: The Day of Infamy — An Illustrated History.” Some of the men Williamson met were featured in the book and put their signatures next to photos of themselves. And they told the stories of what that day was like for them.

On Sunday along the sidewalks in front of antique stores and shops filled with scented candles, active military and retired veterans could be heard swapping stories.

“I tell them about my ship, they tell me about theirs,” said Gary Campbell a retired flight medic from Austin who served on the USS Independence and the USS Kitty Hawk.

Frank Curre needed little prodding to tell his story. He was an 18-year-old from Texas, still getting used to the sea and working in the mess hall of the USS Tennessee when the first bombs and torpedoes were dropped. What he saw in the next two hours stayed with him for the rest of his life.

“I had taken my gear where it was to be sterilized after it was washed. That was when I heard my first blast,” he said. “When the second blast occurred, the chief petty officer came running through the passageway saying something about a meatball. I thought he was talking about something to eat, but he was talking about the red sunburst on the Japanese flag.”

Curre went to his battle station in the lower ammunition handling room for a 14-inch gun turret. A 1,760-pound bomb hit the gun, and he climbed up onto the deck in time to see a direct hit to the USS Arizona.

“Bodies went flying like popcorn,” Curre said.

Curre would spend the day pulling bodies out of the harbor and the rest of the war patrolling the Pacific Ocean on a minesweeper and aircraft carrier.

The bonds he formed that day are still strong and enough to keep him coming back for the memorials, although there may not be too many more.

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is facing the reality of losing membership and chapters quickly. In 2000, there were more than 8,000 members. This year, 4,800 are living. On Saturday a vote was taken that when the group eventually disbands, the funds left over will be transferred to an account for the USS Arizona Memorial.

But that was as far as the group was planning to go. Dressed in Hawaiian shirts, members were already making plans for the 69th anniversary to be held at the opening of a visitor center for the USS Arizona in 2010.

“We are going to honor those who passed that day and those who have passed since,” Middlesworth said.

There are still plenty of stories to tell.