Pearl Harbor Day continues to be remembered by those who survived the attack that killed over 2,300 servicemen. Ira “Ike” Schab still recalls the day vividly.
While serving as a sailor on the USS Dobbin, he received a distress call summoning a fire rescue team. He went up to the upper deck to witness the dramatic sight of the USS Utah capsizing and Japanese planes soaring. Quickly, he descended to retrieve ammunition boxes. Joining a chain of sailors, he supplied shells to an anti-aircraft gun stationed above. Despite his modest 21-year-old frame, weighing just 140 pounds, he effortlessly lifted crates weighing nearly twice as much.
“We were pretty startled. Startled and scared to death,” Schab, now 103, told the Associated Press “We didn’t know what to expect and we knew that if anything happened to us, that would be it.”
On the anniversary of the attack, Schab plans to return to Pearl Harbor today to honor the memory of the servicemen who lost their lives. He will join a small group of survivors at a ceremony commemorating the assault that propelled the United States into World War II. The exact number of attendees may vary, as it depends on the physical abilities of these aging veterans.
The Number Pearl Harbor Survivors is Dwindling Rapidly
The number of Pearl Harbor survivors is dwindling at a rapid pace. Presently, only one crew member of the USS Arizona, a remarkable 102-year-old named Lou Conter from California, remains among us. Just two years ago, survivors attending the 80th anniversary memorial ranged in age from 97 to 103.
David Kilton, the lead for interpretation, education, and visitor services at Pearl Harbor in the National Park Service, highlighted that survivors had long taken the initiative to volunteer and recount their experiences to visitors at this historic location. Unfortunately, this is no longer feasible.
“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 explained. “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 does not maintain records on the number of surviving Pearl Harbor veterans. However, data from the department reveals that out of the 16 million individuals who served in World War II, only approximately 120,000 were alive as of October, and an estimated 131 pass away each day.
Moment of Silence was Observed For Pearl Harbor at the USS Arizona Memorial
For years, Schab remained silent about his experiences at Pearl Harbor, until roughly ten years ago. Since then, he has shared his story with his family, student groups, and enthusiasts of history. He has returned to Pearl Harbor multiple times, allowing the memories to resurface and reflect upon the past. “[I do it] to pay honor to the guys that didn’t make it,” he explained.
Today a ceremony was held on a field across the harbor from the USS Arizona Memorial. This white structure stands above the corroding hull of the battleship, which sank after being struck by a fiery explosion. Sadly, over 1,100 sailors and Marines from the Arizona lost their lives, with more than 900 still entombed within. To show respect, a moment of silence was observed at 7:55 a.m. Of course, this is the exact time the devastating attack began on December 7, 1941.
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