Each year about this time, former Louisiana state Sen. Jackson B. Davis gets ready to talk to various groups about his experience as a Navy officer and survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack.
But this year is different, the 95-year-old told USA Today, because nobody has reached out.
“It’s the same old story,” Davis said, sounding more resigned to his fate than bothered. “We don’t hear much about Gettysburg anymore, or Bunker Hill. Or when the Normans took over England — we don’t hear much about that.”
There’s a reason for that.
In 1991, Davis was one of at least two dozen Pearl Harbor survivors living in Shreveport-Bossier City. Today, that number has dropped to three.
“There’s not many of us left to think about it,” Davis told the paper.
With Pearl Harbor survivors well into their 90s and some passing the century mark, their numbers are shrinking not just in Louisiana, but all over the United States. How many of the 60,000 or so survivors are left? Nobody seems to know, exactly.
Last year, 2,000 to 2,500 survivors were thought to be still alive, according to Eileen Martinez, chief of interpretation for the USS Arizona Memorial.
“They are in their twilight years, so now is the time to honor them and thank them for their service,” she told the Reuters news agency last year.
On Sunday, four of the nine remaining members of the USS Arizona Reunion Association gathered with dozens of other World War II veterans at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center in Honolulu to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack, according to Reuters. That attack, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, killed nearly 2,400 people and sank or damaged 21 vessels and 323 military planes, the article noted. It also thrust the United States into four years of war.
Since 1981, the Arizona veterans have met every year in Tuscon and every five years in Hawaii, according to the association’s Web site. This year’s reunion, according to Fox News, was supposed to be the group’s last, but not everyone was so sure.
“I don’t think this is going to be our last. … We’ve still got time to go,” Louis Conter, 93, told Fox News. “We’ll be back out here no matter whether the rest of the crowd can make it or not.”
On Friday, President Obama designated Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, according to Reuters.
“Today, with solemn gratitude, we recall the sacrifice of all who served during World War II, especially those who gave their last full measure of devotion and the families they left behind,” Obama said.
Many of the veterans arrived at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center on Tuesday, according to Fox News. The men were greeted by military salutes and music from the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band and later were able to view a live-feed of a dive beside Arizona’s sunken hull, Fox noted. That hull, “still holds the bodies of more than 900 of about 1,177 men who died on the battleship,” it said. For many veterans, each return to Peal Harbor brings back vivid and sometimes painful memories.
“It’s always like yesterday when we’re out here,” Conter told Fox.
For those who have passed away, the task of keeping alive the memory of Pearl Harbor falls upon children and relatives. They are people such as Joseph Kralik Jr., whose father, Army Tech Sgt. Joseph F. Kralik Sr., was on his way to Sunday Mass when the attack on Pearl Harbor began, according to Trib Total Media. Kralik Sr. died in 2007, but his son tells the paper that he spent years prying information out of his father about Pearl Harbor and has now assumed the role of keeping his father’s experience alive.
“This is our duty to keep the memory of what happened alive and honor our parents,” he said.