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Native Hawaiian Pearl Harbor Survivor Dies

December 13, 2016, 2:21 PM HST
* Updated December 13, 2:27 PM
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Pearl Harbor survivor Herb Weatherwax

Pearl Harbor survivor Herb Weatherwax, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Aloha Chapter, returns a salute from Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) during a joint U.S. Navy/National Park Service ceremony held on Dec. 7, commemorating the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Chung-Hoon is named for Rear Adm. Gordon Paiea Chung-Hoon, who was born July 25, 1910 in Honolulu. From May 1944 to October 1945, he served as the commanding officer for USS Sigsbee (DD 502), earning a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for gallantry and heroism. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Hight/Released) .

“Uncle Herb” Weatherwax, one of a handful of remaining local Hawai‘i Pearl Harbor military survivors, passed away Monday, Dec. 12.

According to his daughter, Carrie Weatherwax, “Papa was ready and it was a strong yet peaceful death.  As with this “Greatest Generation,” Papa left this Earth with dignity and grace.”

Herb Weatherwax was a frequent volunteer at the National Park Service’s Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and often attended military observances, including those hosted by Navy Region Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor survivor Herb Weatherwax

(Dec. 7, 2013) Pearl Harbor survivor Herb Weatherwax signs an autograph for a young admirer before the start of the 72nd anniversary commemoration of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. This year’s commemoration theme, “Sound the Alarm,” examines how thousands of Americans answered the call to duty in the wake of the attack. More than 2,500 people attended the event. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nardel Gervacio/Released)

He attended the most recent National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration Ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Dec. 7.

According to his family, it was his final wish.

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In October, Weatherwax and fellow local Pearl Harbor survivor Al Rodrigues were featured in the filming at JBPHH of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Rock the Troops, which will air on Tuesday, Dec. 13, on Spike TV.

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Raised on the outskirts of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Weatherwax’s first job was with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, building roads around Mauna Kea. He also worked for Hawaiian Electric as an apprentice electrician for 30 cents an hour. It was a trade that would help him in the Army and later as a veteran.

Weatherwax was drafted into the Army in June 1941 and was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa. He was on a weekend pass in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941, and heard the thunderous attack in Pearl Harbor. He was recalled to his duty station during the attack and ordered to prepare for an invasion of the islands.

“As the bus was passing above Pearl Harbor, I saw the whole thing. The attack was still going on and there was confusion everywhere,”Weatherwax had written. “The USS Arizona was enveloped in flames; the USS Oklahoma was on its side. Those who managed to escape from being trapped inside those ships were up on the hull, but the ocean was on fire from the spilled oil and fuel. Those men couldn’t even go into the water. There was smoke all over and a lot of commotion.”

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In Counting My Blessings: The Autobiography of a Native Hawaiian Pearl Harbor Survivor, “Uncle Herb” tells his story of humble beginnings, life in the military during World War II, then success as a business owner.

The invasion never came, but war was declared the next day. President Roosevelt called it “a day of infamy.”

Counting My Blessings tracks Weatherwax’s journey during the war from the Pacific to the Atlantic, landing in Europe and facing Germany’s Siegfried Line where “the sound of strafing was like 1,000 stampeding horses.” He said his 272nd Regiment advanced into Germany and freed dying prisoners in labor camps.

In August 1945, Weatherwax was preparing to redeploy to the Pacific Theater when word came that Japan had surrendered. In the years that followed, he reflected on the death and destruction he witnessed and, he said, “the lasting effects of combat experience.”

After the war, the Army veteran worked at Kwajalein and Subic Bay in the Philippines in harbor dredging and runway construction jobs before starting businesses back in Hawai‘i and running unsuccessfully for political office.

He volunteered at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center for many years, helping promote education and understanding.

“It is up to survivors to perpetuate the history until we are gone,” Uncle Herb said. “I am always learning from others and thought that someone might pick up one or two little things from what I have gone through.”

His family is planning a celebration of life service to be held in June 2017.

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