Mount Pleasant — They’re moving much slower now. Fingers that once carried tools or fired weapons show the curl of age.
Most of their comrades are gone too. Still, Pearl Harbor survivors vividly remember where they were in the instant the bombs fell.
“The whole damn thing,” said Charleston-area resident Buck Morris, who was on the destroyer Phelps the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, watching Japanese bombing runs. “It all stays with you.”
Morris and Army veteran Ed Crews, of Georgetown, were the only two survivors to attend Friday’s 71st anniversary remembrance of the attack that brought America into World War II.
The down numbers this year, after as many as six attended last year’s gathering aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point, are further proof that veterans of America’s first battle of the second World War are disappearing fast.
“I lost 10 this year,” Gordon Sparks, head of the South Carolina Chapter of Pearl Harbor Survivors, said of the state’s figures.
He estimated that about 18 Pearl Harbor men are alive in the state today, but conceded that the figure may be high. The youngest of the group is 90 years old.
The surprise attack, known as the “Day of Infamy,” thrust the U.S. into the global conflict when some 350 carrier-based torpedo and bomber airplanes destroyed much of the U.S. fleet and air power in the Pacific.
About 25 South Carolina residents died in the attack, including eight on the battleship Arizona, which blew up during a bomb attack and became the lasting symbol of the battle.
Estimates of Pearl Harbor survivors today may be less than 2,000. That’s a far cry from the 84,000 U.S. servicemen who found themselves spread across the island of Oahu during the fight.
Sparks, whose father-in-law and Pearl Harbor survivor John Lawhon died recently, said the men represent a treasure-trove of disappearing stories. He recalled finding a letter that Lawhon wrote describing his return to a no-longer-blacked-out U.S. coastline as victory was at hand. He saw car lights in San Francisco. It was the first time he had seen lights on at night in years that didn’t involve “gunfire or lightning,” he wrote.
Sparks said he didn’t know how soon South Carolina would fall to having only one living survivor left, but said the day is coming.
“It could be anytime,” he said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
VFW State Honor Guardsman Bill Godwin played taps at the close of the Pearl Harbor ceremonies Friday on the Yorktown.×
Photos by Grace Beahm/Staff Wreaths honored those who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor during ceremonies Friday on the Yorktown.×
Pearl Harbor survivor Ed Crews of Georgetown attends the ceremony aboard the Yorktown that honors his service on Pearl Harbor Day.×
Navy veteran William Brunson (left) talks with Pearl Harbor survivor Buck Morris Jr. during a ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown on Friday.×