Raymond Haerry, one of the last living crew members on the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died 10 weeks before the 75th anniversary observance this Wednesday. He was 94.
After the first explosions rocked the Arizona, Haerry sprinted to one of the ship’s anti-aircraft guns, hoping to somehow repel the aerial bombardment.
But the weapon wouldn’t fire. The gun’s ammunition was in storage.
Haerry raced toward the ammunition depot. An explosion reached it first, igniting gunpowder and fuel, according to a U.S. Navy interview featuring Haerry and his son. The explosion cracked the ship in two and lifted the bow into the air.
Haerry went with it, falling into oily Pearl Harbor waters that had been lit on fire. He somehow made it to shore, sweeping his arms in front of him as he swam to push the flames away.
Haerry’s son called him one of the first heroes of World War II. After swimming to shore, he found a gun and opened fire on the attacking Japanese warplanes. He spent the next few days recovering the bodies of his shipmates.
Nearly four of every five men on the USS Arizona were lost – some 1,177. Almost half of the 2,400 U.S. servicemen who died that day were on the Arizona. Another 429 sailors and Marines were killed when the USS Oklahoma was torpedoed and capsized.
Some were never recovered and remain entombed in the wreckage.
Afterward, Haerry served for 25 years in the Navy, retiring as a master chief petty officer. He lived with his wife of 70 years, Evelyn, at a nursing home in West Warwick, R.I.
Haerry died Sept. 27 in Rhode Island.
With Pearl Harbor survivors well into their 90s and some passing the century mark, their numbers are shrinking all over the country. 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.
Two years ago, 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.
Since 1981, the Arizona veterans have met every year in Tuscon and every five years in Hawaii, according to the association’s website.
In all those years, Haerry never returned to Pearl Harbor, his son said. But his plan was always to go back.
“As he was getting closer to the end, I think he felt that if there’s any place that he’d like to be at rest, it would be with his crewmates, the people who suffered and died on that day,” Raymond Haerry Jr. told the Associated Press.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.