Daily Updates

December 5, 2013

Pearl Harbor survivor thrives meeting visitors

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Herb Weatherwax cruises the open-air grounds of the visitors center at Pearl Harbor on a motorized scooter dubbed “Herb’s Hot Rod.” When a woman notices his blue and white cap embroidered with the words “Pearl Harbor Survivor,” he coaxes her over.

“Come get a picture,” Weatherwax says. Her family surrounds his scooter to pose for a snapshot and shake his hand.

The 96-year-old charms visitors in a similar fashion each of the three days a week he volunteers at a memorial for the USS Arizona, a battleship that sank in the 1941 Japanese attack. The retired electrician is one of four former servicemen who lived through the aerial bombing and now greet people at the historic site.

People like hearing stories directly from the survivors, Weatherwax says. And he enjoys meeting people from around the globe — just the other day he met visitors from New Zealand, China and Texas. He joked he wants his photograph “in every home in the world.”

“This is my reason to continue to keep going,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s time for me to say goodbye.”

Weatherwax was a 24-year-old Army private living in Honolulu when he heard loud explosions the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. He saw the sky fill with black smoke and heard anti-aircraft guns firing. When he turned on the radio, he learned Japan was bombing Oahu and all military personnel were to immediately report to their stations.

He saw the USS Arizona enveloped in flames and the USS Oklahoma turned on its side as he headed to his post. Twenty-one ships were sunk or heavily damaged that day while 320 aircraft were damaged or destroyed. Some 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed.

Pam Johnson, a sixth grade teacher in a rural community outside Honolulu, said meeting Weatherwax transformed her students.

She had been struggling to get the 12-year-olds from Hauula Elementary School interested in research. After meeting Weatherwax, several students suddenly told her they wanted to look up Pearl Harbor. Weatherwax ignited in them a desire to learn, she said.

“That’s a huge connection,” she says. Her students wouldn’t have developed this interest just by walking through the exhibition halls at the visitors’ center or even the memorial for the Arizona, Johnson says.

“This is the best classroom so far this year,” she says.

At their peak in the early 1990s, 21 survivors volunteered, says National Park Service historian Daniel Martinez.

Meeting a survivor enlarges or enhances the experience of coming to Pearl Harbor for many, Martinez says. It can give people a tangible connection to meet someone who was on site when the bombing happened.

Their numbers are dwindling, however.

“It’s a fading fraternity. Right before my eyes we’re seeing them disappear,” Martinez says.

The three others who remain are also in their 90s. During the week, Weatherwax is joined by Sterling Cale, who was a hospital corpsman assigned to the shipyard dispensary in 1941, and Alfred Rodrigues who was stationed at the mouth of Pearl Harbor. On the weekend, USS Pennsylvania survivor Everett Hyland greets visitors.

This Saturday, they will join a few thousand guests for a public ceremony remembering those who died in the attack 72 years ago.

Weatherwax vows to keep volunteering as long as he is physically able. “I tell people that I meet out here, ‘If you come back in three-and-a-half years and you see me here, I’ll be 100 years old,”’ Weatherwax says.

 

1
Text Only
Daily Updates
  • 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday.

    April 24, 2014

  • In Other News, April 24

    April 24, 2014

  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 American doctors

    An Afghan government security guard opened fire Thursday on a group of foreign doctors at a Kabul hospital, killing three American physicians and wounding a U.S. nurse, officials said.

    April 24, 2014

  • Nevada rancher condemned for racist remarks

     A Nevada rancher who has become a conservative folk hero for resisting the federal government’s attempts to round up his cattle faced sharp criticism Thursday for racist comments published in a New York Times article.

    April 24, 2014

  • NRA seeks universal gun law at national meeting

    With concealed weapons now legal in all 50 states, the National Rifle Association’s focus at this week’s annual meeting is less about enacting additional state protections than on making sure the permits already issued still apply when the gun owners travel across the country.

    April 24, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Thursday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday.

    April 23, 2014

  • In Other News, April 23

    April 23, 2014

  • US weighs clemency for inmates jailed for 10 years

    The Justice Department is encouraging nonviolent federal inmates who have behaved in prison, have no significant criminal history and have already served more than 10 years behind bars to apply for clemency, officials announced Wednesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • High court tosses $3.4M award to child porn victim

    The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea to make it easier for victims of child pornography to collect money from people who view their images online, throwing out a nearly $3.4 million judgment in favor of a woman whose childhood rape has been widely seen on the Internet. Two dissenting justices said Congress should change the law to benefit victims.

    April 23, 2014

  • Airport security vulnerabilities not uncommon

    For all the tens of billions of dollars that the nation has spent on screening passengers and their bags, few airports made a comparable investment to secure the airplanes themselves.

    April 23, 2014