- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

KETTERING, Ohio — Lunchtime was still two hours away as seven old friends with vastly different backgrounds but one unforgettable Sunday morning in common began trickling into Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9927.

Norm Stuckey, 85, was the first to arrive at the cavernous service club. Jim Green, 84, was one of the last to show up. After a few minutes of banter about the weather, grandchildren and vacations just taken, the talk turned to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 63 years ago today.

“Most of the fellas in my barracks were still sleeping off hangovers when we heard all the commotion,” Mr. Stuckey recalled. “We ran outside and watched the planes fly in real low, then dive down into the harbor. We heard the explosions. We saw the black smoke roll up. For a little while there, we didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

Mr. Stuckey, Mr. Green and the five other men who got together one morning recently at the Kettering VFW are members of Chapter 7 of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, an informal but close-knit organization for Miami Valley veterans who found themselves in the thick of battle on December 7, 1941, and lived to tell about it.

The surprise attack on military bases on Oahu, which began shortly before 8 a.m. and lasted about two hours, killed 2,388 persons, wounded 1,178, sank or heavily damaged 21 ships and destroyed or damaged 323 aircraft.

When Chapter 7 was founded in 1991, it had 40 members. Today, 22 remain, said Mr. Stuckey, the organization’s president. The men — all in their 80s — include a retired sign painter and a former breeder of Clydesdales.

Their bond, said Floyd Nelson, 84, was forged amid bullets and bombs.

“We have two things in common,” he said. “We all grew up during the Depression and we all were at the Pearl on December 7, ‘41.”

Mr. Nelson, a member of the 19th Infantry, was getting out of bed at Scofield Barracks in Hawaii when the enemy arrived that sunny and warm Sunday morning.

Charles Copley, 85, had a bird’s-eye view of the attack.

“I had the 0400 to 0800 watch that morning, so I was on the bridge of the destroyer Downes when the first Japanese planes swept down on the harbor,” he said. “The noise was deafening.”

With each passing day, the ranks of the nation’s World War II veterans grow thinner.

In preparation for the day when Chapter 7 is down to its last member, founders created a “last man club.” But right now the whole thing looks a little iffy.

“Charley Dean, who was aboard the USS Helena at Pearl Harbor, actually started the club,” Mr. Stuckey said. “He bought a bottle of cognac and two glasses for the last survivor, and he put them in a wood box. But old Charley up and died on us a few years ago … and now nobody seems to know what happened to the cognac, the glasses or the box.”

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