Octogenarian Survivors of Pearl Harbor Attack Set to Commemorate 82nd Anniversary

by Chloe Baker
Pearl Harbor survivors

Ira “Ike” Schab, now 103 years old, vividly remembers the fateful day 82 years ago when the tranquility of his morning was shattered by the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a young sailor aboard the USS Dobbin, he had just finished his routine shower and donned a clean sailor’s uniform when the call for a fire rescue party reached his ears.

Rushing topside, Schab was met with a harrowing sight – the USS Utah was capsizing, and Japanese planes filled the skies. With determination, he returned below deck to retrieve boxes of ammunition, joining a chain of fellow sailors to feed shells to an anti-aircraft gun high above. Despite his 140-pound (63.50 kilograms) frame as a 21-year-old, Schab found the strength to handle boxes weighing nearly twice his weight.

“We were pretty startled. Startled and scared to death,” Schab recalled at his Beaverton, Oregon home, where he now resides with his daughter. “We didn’t know what to expect, and we knew that if anything happened to us, that would be it.”

Now, 82 years later, Schab is preparing to return to Pearl Harbor on the anniversary of the attack, paying homage to the more than 2,300 servicemen who lost their lives that fateful day. He will likely be one of only six surviving witnesses to attend the commemorative ceremony, although the exact number may vary due to the declining health of these elderly veterans.

The ranks of Pearl Harbor survivors have been dwindling rapidly over the years. Presently, Lou Conter, a 102-year-old crew member of the USS Arizona, is the lone survivor from that ill-fated ship. Just two years ago, attendees at the 80th-anniversary remembrance ceremony ranged in age from 97 to 103, and this time, they will be even older.

David Kilton, the National Park Service’s expert in interpretation, education, and visitor services for Pearl Harbor, lamented the fact that these survivors, who were once excellent storytellers of their experiences, can no longer share their stories firsthand.

“We could be the best storytellers in the world, and we can’t really hold a candle to those that lived it, sharing their stories firsthand,” Kilton said. “But now that we are losing that generation and won’t have them very much longer, the opportunity shifts to reflect even more so on the sacrifices that were made, the stories that they did share.”

While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t maintain specific statistics on the number of Pearl Harbor survivors still alive, data from the department reveals that of the 16 million who served in World War II, only about 120,000 were alive as of October, with an estimated 131 passing away each day.

Approximately 87,000 military personnel were stationed on Oahu at the time of the attack, according to estimates by military historian J. Michael Wenger.

Schab, who had seldom spoken about his Pearl Harbor experiences until a decade ago, now shares his story with family, student groups, and history enthusiasts. He has returned to Pearl Harbor multiple times, driven by a singular purpose: “To pay honor to the guys that didn’t make it,” as he eloquently puts it.

Thursday’s ceremony, scheduled to take place on a field across the harbor from the USS Arizona Memorial, will include a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., marking the precise time the attack commenced on December 7, 1941.

The USS Dobbin lost three sailors, as documented by Navy records. One was killed in action, while two succumbed later to wounds sustained when bomb fragments struck the ship’s stern. All three were manning an anti-aircraft gun.

Schab’s Sunday morning had started peacefully, with an anticipated visit from his brother, also a Navy serviceman stationed at a naval radio station near Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, the brothers never had the chance to meet that day.

Throughout World War II, Schab served in the Pacific with the Navy, stationed in locations such as the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), the Mariana Islands, and Okinawa. Remarkably, he emerged from the war unscathed, a fact he attributed to a guardian angel in a past interview with the Best Defense Foundation.

“You’re scared stiff, but you stagger through the events as they happen and hope everything’s going to turn out all right,” Schab reflected.

After the war, he contributed to the Apollo program, working as an electrical engineer at General Dynamics, aiding in sending astronauts to the moon. During retirement, he volunteered as a state park docent in Malibu, California, where he educated visitors on the migration patterns of monarch butterflies.

A tuba player during his Navy days, Schab maintained strong bonds with his fellow bandmates long after the war, organizing annual reunions for decades, according to his daughter, Kimberlee Heinrichs.

While Schab’s pace has slowed in recent years, he continues to engage with younger fraternity members from Delta Sigma Phi via weekly Zoom cocktail gatherings, sipping cranberry-raspberry juice.

In his twilight years, Schab finds joy in listening to big band jazz, audiobooks, and meeting new people. With gratitude for his enduring presence, he eagerly anticipates his return to Pearl Harbor, supported by his daughter and caregivers, as they seek assistance through a GoFundMe account to make this poignant pilgrimage possible.

“Just grateful that I’m still here,” Schab reflects. “That’s really how it feels. Grateful.”

[End of Article]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Q: Who is Ira “Ike” Schab, and why is he returning to Pearl Harbor?

A: Ira “Ike” Schab is a 103-year-old survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack. He is returning to Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 82nd anniversary of the attack and to honor the servicemen who lost their lives on that fateful day.

Q: How many survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack are expected to attend the ceremony?

A: It is expected that only six survivors, including Ira Schab, will attend the ceremony. However, this number may vary due to the declining health of these elderly veterans.

Q: What is the significance of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor?

A: The USS Arizona Memorial is a white structure that stands above the rusting hull of the battleship USS Arizona, which was destroyed in a fireball and sank during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It serves as a solemn reminder of the more than 1,100 sailors and Marines from the USS Arizona who were killed, with over 900 of them still entombed within the ship.

Q: How has the aging pool of Pearl Harbor survivors been changing over the years?

A: The number of Pearl Harbor survivors has been rapidly decreasing over the years due to their advanced age. Currently, there is only one surviving crew member of the USS Arizona, and the remaining survivors are in their 100s. Two years ago, survivors attending the 80th-anniversary remembrance ceremony were between the ages of 97 and 103.

Q: What role did Ira “Ike” Schab play during the Pearl Harbor attack?

A: Ira Schab was aboard the USS Dobbin during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He assisted in feeding shells to an anti-aircraft gun to defend against Japanese planes. Despite his relatively small stature, he managed to lift boxes of ammunition weighing nearly twice his weight.

Q: How does Ira Schab feel about returning to Pearl Harbor?

A: Ira Schab expresses a deep sense of gratitude for being able to return to Pearl Harbor. He views his journey as a way to pay homage to the servicemen who didn’t survive the attack.

Q: What was Ira Schab’s life like after World War II?

A: After World War II, Ira Schab worked as an electrical engineer at General Dynamics, contributing to the Apollo program that sent astronauts to the moon. In retirement, he volunteered as a state park docent and remained connected with his Navy bandmates through annual reunions.

Q: How can Ira Schab’s return to Pearl Harbor be supported?

A: Ira Schab’s family has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for his pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, where he plans to pay his respects. Donations to this account can help make his journey possible.

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HistoryNerd88 December 7, 2023 - 2:14 pm

Old survivors real heroes! Sad they gettin’ old.

Supporter2023 December 7, 2023 - 6:02 pm

Help Ira get to Pearl Harbor! His story so touching.

VeteransFamily December 7, 2023 - 10:58 pm

Grateful for all veterans. They made history.

Reader123 December 8, 2023 - 1:04 am

wow, this article so heartwarming. ira schab, 103, goin back to pearl harbor, salute!

SailorGirl December 8, 2023 - 6:51 am

USS Arizona memorial so important! Thx, Ira!


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