It is a sad day indeed because these members of the greatest are dying off and the first-hand accounts of that day are lost forever.
The San Diego chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, once believed to be the largest chapter of the organization and possibly the last still in operation, held its final meeting on September 21, 2019.
At its peak, the chapter had 586 members. They are now down to seven. Because their bylaws require at least two members to serve on the board, they must cease official business.
President Stuart Hedley plans to continue speaking at schools and showing up at parades and memorial ceremonies. But no one else in the group is mobile enough to serve in an official capacity since the vice president, Jack Evans, passed away at the age of 95 years old in February.
Hedley called it the “end of an era.” The 97-year-old veteran said it left him feeling “a little heartbroken” and said they were a “dying organization.”
There were around 50,000 American service members at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu on the morning of December 7, 1941. That is the Japanese sent waves of warplanes from aircraft carriers in a surprise attack that wreaked havoc on the US Pacific Fleet and led to the US entrance into World War II.
Approximately 2,400 Americans were killed in the attacks. Another 1,200 were wounded. Over 30 ships and hundreds of airplanes were destroyed or damaged.
The survivors helped win the war and then returned to their lives. Those who remain are nearing 100 year old. Besides Hedley, the only other member to attend Saturday’s meeting was Clayton Schenkelberg. He turns 102 next month.
About 100 people gathered in the auditorium of a Mormon church for the meeting. The date of the meeting was planned to coincide with the founding of the chapter 56 years ago.
Scott Herod, a church official, spoke at the meeting. He commended the men for their bravery at Pearl Harbor and the bravery they showed in living their lives ever since. He spoke to their courage and their dedication in fulfilling their commitments.
Relatives, friends and people who admired the group of survivors attended the meeting. Many in attendance wore Hawaiian shirts and/or leis. Lunch consisted of Hawaiian food and a group of singers entertained with South Pacific songs, patriotic standards and a medley of hits from the 1940s.
After lunch, Hedley presided over what he claimed to be the “shortest meeting ever.” He said a prayer, called the roll and said that he regretted that they had come to the end.
Then he tapped a gavel on the table top saying, “We are done.”
The group began when several survivors met at a restaurant in 1954 on the anniversary of the attack. A reporter who covered the reunion mentioned that he had also been at Pearl Harbor. The group shared memories and a tribute to those that were killed in the attacks. They agreed to meet again a year later.
From there, the group grew into an association that, at one point, consisted of 30,000 members in dozens of chapters across the country.
Members wore Hawaiian shirts as a tribute to the location where the attack occurred and white slacks to indicate the innocence of the ones killed in a war they didn’t know they were a part of.
Members took their motto, “Remember Pearl Harbor,” to heart. They spoke at schools. They appeared at Veterans Day and Memorial day events. They wrote letters to Congressional leaders to encourage vigilance against foreign threats.
In 2011, on the 70th anniversary of the attack, the national association ended because there were less than 3,000 survivors left. Individual chapters carried on, but most of them have stopped functioning as well.