Pearl Harbor Survivors Meet For The Last Time
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Yesterday, in Snellville, Georgia, the Southeastern Chapter of Pearl Harbor Survivors held its final meeting. It's been 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The group is part of a national organization that's shutting down at the end of this year, due to a diminishing surviving membership.
Kate Sweeney, of member station WABE, spent time at the group's last meeting. She has this story.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good to see you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Just hanging around.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah. Me, too. Me, too.
KATE SWEENEY, BYLINE: Old friends who've known one another for decades hug and shake hands at American Legion Hall Post 232. There are eight people here for the last meeting. Only two are actual survivors. One of them is director, Bob Kerr.
BOB KERR: We knew the day it started that someday we'd have to fold because recruiting isn't out there for us. There was only one day of December the 7th, 1941. We've run a course and I think we've had a good course to run.
SWEENEY: The group started in 1964. Back then, meetings like this would top 50. The Pearl Harbor Survivors did a lot of service work, for nursing homes, schools and the like.
KERR: But we kept getting older and our membership kept dwindling. Our legs got more arthritis in them. We just quit doing things like that.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CONVERSATION)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: How many, how many Navy boats have a hydraulic system in it?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: And you didn't get to work on one of them.
SWEENEY: In recent years, the group is mostly about fellowship At this meeting, Bob Kerr and Marion Shirley swap a lot of stories from their military days. For years, many World War II vets didn't talk about their wartime experiences. This group has helped them to open up.
Robert Bentley started going to these meetings with his father, before he died a few years back.
ROBERT BENTLEY: My father never talked about it until he joined the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. We were in school. If we were studying World War II, you ask him a question about it, he said, read your history book. That was the only answer we got.
SWEENEY: I hear a lot of this from family members here, who say the survivors group gave their fathers and husbands a place where they could finally open up and begin to heal.
This group plans to continue to meet unofficially as the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors. Al Pomeroy is another of these sons. He says keeping the group going is a matter of respect.
AL POMEROY: They're part of the greatest generation. They put their life on hold for us, so you need to give honor to whom honor's due. And these guys, and women that served, they have earned it. So it would be, in my opinion, a sin not to.
SWEENEY: As far as what the group will actually do once that generation is gone, Robert Bentley says he isn't sure.
BENTLEY: I don't know; that remains to be seen.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BENTLEY: There's a memorial at Marietta National Cemetery, that's something that's got to be maintained and kept. And also, that's something that we will need to do, you know. So, I, you know, I don't know what's going to happen.
SWEENEY: Director Bob Kerr says he doesn't regret the end of the group He sat on the national board the day it made the decision.
KERR: And I say that it was a good meeting, but it was a sad meeting. Because there's men sitting there that we've known for years, that we'll never see them again.
SWEENEY: All the same, he says, they've had a good run of getting to know one another. After all, one historic morning might have changed their lives forever. But it's taken 47 years to build a fellowship that's changed it again.
For NPR News, I'm Kate Sweeney in Atlanta.
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