Pearl Harbor survivors’ stories are almost gone

Some folks have been asking why I didn’t have a story in The Morning Call for the 72nd anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. For years I’ve marked Dec. 7 by highlighting one survivor’s story, told in his own words.

Fact is, I’ve run out of survivors. There are only four known Pearl Harbor veterans still living in the Lehigh Valley – Bob Kroner, Dick Schimmel, Burdell Hontz and Jim Murdy – and I’ve done stories on all of them.

Murdy’s was the first, back in 1999. He was in the Navy, an electrician aboard the light cruiser USS Helena, which took an aerial torpedo from the Japanese. Schimmel’s story ran in 2007. He was an Army radar man, a switchboard operator and plotter at Fort Shafter. Hontz worked at the message center of a B-17 bomber group at Hickam Field; Kroner was in the Army Signal Corps – he had been Schimmel’s drill instructor — and led a team of cipherers at Hickam Field. All are now in their 90s.

I’ve done a total of a dozen interviews with Pearl Harbor survivors over the years, including my 2011 story on three Army radar men from Pennsylvania – Schimmel, Bob McKenney and Joe Lockard. It was Lockard who got a radar warning of incoming planes that was ignored. He died in 2012, and McKenney died last March.

Other Pearl Harbor survivors I’ve interviewed were John Minnich, who died of heart failure before his story ran in 2001; Clifford Ryerson, who died in 2009; Paul Moyer, Warren Peters and Alfred Taglang, all of whom died in 2011; and Joe Moore, who died in September – I saw him almost weekly because we went to the same church, Calvary Moravian in west Allentown.

So, as this generation passes, the Pearl Harbor attack no longer “lives in infamy” for most of us – the thrust of the story that ran in The Morning Call on Saturday in place of the interview I can no longer get.

3 responses to “Pearl Harbor survivors’ stories are almost gone

  1. I know what you meant, a few years ago I was in contact with several members of my father’s 42 Squadron. Pop was station at Hickam on 12/7/1941. Now there is one, he is 90 plus and is aware his time with us is coming to an end and he will be joining his Unit in Glory soon enough.

  2. Your writings are wonderful – next year I think the Morning Call should send you to Hawaii for the Anniversary of Pearl Harbor so you can photograph those assembled and interview some of the survivors who make the trip!

  3. I met a survivor from the Pennsylvania a few years ago at Pearl. Great guy, great story teller. They wouldn’t let us out to the Arizona, they said it was too windy. I told the ticket taker park ranger that the Japanese didn’t let a little thin like wind stop them. He wasn’t amused. Only time I have been to Hawaii. Not like driving to California. I was disappointed.

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