- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Bud Adams was working at an Airline Highway service station when he learned on the radio about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

His first reaction? “Where’s Pearl Harbor? Pearl River?” the 18-year-old Adams asked the shop’s owner. “He laughed and said, ‘No, Hawaii. Honolulu. Waikiki Beach.’ “

“I said, ‘Well, the only thing I know about Waikiki Beach is Bing Crosby playing the ukulele in the movie,’ ” Adams, now 93, recalled recently, referring to the 1937 film “Waikiki Wedding.” ”That’s all I knew about that.”

The day after the attack, Adams and a friend from the Carrollton neighborhood, where he grew up and still lives, went to the U.S. Custom House to enlist in the Army.

Too young to do so on his own, Adams - whose real first name is Lynward - tried to talk his reluctant mother into signing his authorization papers. She relented on the condition that he joined the Navy instead, which she viewed as a safer bet.

On Veterans Day, and as the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surprise Dec. 7 attack on the Pearl Harbor base approaches, Adams’ crisp recollections about his wartime experience are a reminder of the dwindling number of World War II veterans, now in their late 80s and 90s, who are still alive today.

Only about 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who fought in the war survive, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and estimates suggest that they’re dying at a rate of 372 each day.

Adams is among roughly 7,780 WWII veterans living in Louisiana, according to estimates from the National World War II Museum. At most, maybe 2,000 reside in New Orleans.

There weren’t a lot of jobs available when Adams returned from the war. So like many other returning veterans, he signed up for barbers’ school, following in his father’s footsteps for what he expected to be a temporary gig.

Seventy years later, Adams is still cutting hair on Oak Street, blocks from where he was born, where he grew up and where he still lives.

The small Family Barber Shop in the 8100 block is a mainstay in a commercial zone with plenty of turnover. There are four barbers’ chairs, and the back wall is covered with old memorabilia and framed photographs.

Some are a reminder of Adams’ time in the service. His fourth-grade photo is there, joined by family photographs, many of his wife, “Al,” who died in 2014. They were married 68 years.

Most days, Adams is at the shop, talking with customers, the other barbers and their apprentices.

“There’s a little story I’d like to tell you,” he said on a recent morning, clad in a collared shirt, suspenders and a retired soldier’s cap.

He spent the four years of American involvement in World War II aboard Liberty ships, transporting thousands of tons of supplies and arms to U.S. troops overseas.

It was dangerous work. After boot camp in San Diego, he served as a gunner in the Navy Armed Guard, which was responsible for defending merchant ships from enemy attacks.

After the war, he spent 30 years in the Army Reserve, retiring as a command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank.

He has plenty of stories. Like the time, a few weeks after the Japanese surrender in 1945, when his ship was anchored in heavy fog near San Francisco and another ship got too close. “All of the sudden, boom!” he said. “One of our own ships hit us!”

Nobody was injured, he said, pulling out a folded newspaper clipping about the incident. “The war was over, and we never got hit before,” he said. “We got shot at, we got torpedoed at, but never hit, and then the war’s over and we get hit by our own ship.”

These days, the barbershop does a brisk business with college students, Adams said. When he first started, a haircut cost $1. Now, it’s $20.

Another barber, Ed Serpas, who is also a veteran, handles much of the business side, but Adams still has his chair reserved whenever he wants to work.

His specialty is the “executive cut,” which is short on the sides, but not tight, with a part and comb in the front.

On a recent morning, Adams’ first customer was Tommy Allen, 89, who lives on Pine Street, in the same house where he grew up.

As Adams got to work, the two chatted, discussing the presidential campaign, the neighborhood and how it’s changed. A few times, Adams paused to retrieve an old photo from the shelf.

Some days, he does three or four haircuts, sometimes seven or eight or as many as 10. “It keeps me going,” he said at his home on a recent afternoon, pointing to an old photograph of his wife. “Because after she’s gone, I’d be sitting here growing roots in this damn chair.”

He’s not ready to hang up his electric razor. Not yet.

“I know I don’t have much time left,” he said. “I might go to 100. I don’t know. People say, ‘Would you like to go to 100?’ I say, ‘Well, I wouldn’t mind it.’ “

But if he makes it to 100, Adams joked about how he’d like to go.

“I want to be shot by a jealous husband,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll make history that way.”

___

Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, https://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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