Oldest Pearl Harbor Survivors

10 Oldest Pearl Harbor Survivors

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December 7, 1941 is a date that everyone in America has committed to memory. This day, which marks the attack on Pearl Harbor, has come to be known as the “Day of Infamy” (derived from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech the day after the attack). That fateful day led the United States to officially enter World War II, which had already been going on since September 1, 1939. Along with the rest of the Allied Powers, America was able to bring the War to an end on September 2, 1945.

After the dust had settled in Pearl Harbor, the total number of people killed in the attack was 2,403 – 2,008 navy personnel, 109 marines, 218 army, and 68 civilians. A majority of those killed came from the USS Arizona (1,177 crew members). Despite the devastation, many people did manage to survive the attack and went on to live long lives. More than half of the people on this list are currently still alive (at the time of this writing) and may even go on to live for a few more years. To help remember those who were lost at Pearl Harbor, the survivors formed a group called the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Surviving members often make appearances at Pearl Harbor memorial events, speak about their experiences, and even write memoirs about what happened.

10. Donald Stratton (July 14, 1922 – Present)

Oldest Age Reached: 96 in 2018
Place of Birth: Inavale, Nebraska
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Seaman First Class

photo source:  DVIDS via U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Hilda Perez

Donald Stratton is the youngest member of the surviving group of USS Arizona crew members. Stratton is currently 96 years old and was only 19 on December 7, 1941. According to Stratton’s personal account, that fateful day started out normal but as soon as the attacks started, Stratton ran for his battle station. After fighting for awhile and helping as many people as he could, Stratton a few others were forced to flee as the Arizona burned up.

Stratton, along with still-living survivor Lauren Bruner and four other men, were saved when a sailor named Joe George threw them a line from USS Vestal. Due to severe burns and injuries, Stratton was medically discharged in September 1942. After he spent time healing, Stratton re-enlisted in the Navy and was able to serve during the last year of World War II. Recently, Stratton and Bruner finally succeeded in convincing the Navy to posthumously award Joe George with a Bronze Star Medal for saving their lives.

9. Howard Kenton Potts (1921 – Present)

Oldest Age Reached: 97 in 2018
Place of Birth: Illinois
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Coxswain

photo source:  DVIDS via U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Hilda Perez

Howard Kenton Potts, who prefers to go by Ken, is one of the five living survivors who served aboard the USS Arizona. Unlike some of the other survivors, Potts is more reluctant to talk about what happened on December 7, 1941. Potts has told his story numerous times, but often won’t go into too much detail. He also rarely participates in Pearl Harbor memorial events, but did show up for the 75th anniversary because the family of another survivor, Don Stratton, had worked so hard to organize the event.

At the time of the attack, Potts was a coxswain and was transporting goods onto the Arizona when chaos broke out. Potts was later assigned to the diving crew that was tasked with retrieving bodies from the sunken part of the ship. For the remainder of World War II, Potts worked in the port director’s office, delivering classified mail and documents to the captains of Navy ships. Potts currently resides in Utah and says that he is still in excellent health and that two members of his family lived to 100.

8. Louis Conter (September 13, 1921 – Present)

Oldest Age Reached: 97 in 2018
Place of Birth: Ojibwa, Wisconsin
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Quartermaster Third Class

Louis Conterphoto source:  DVIDS via U.S. Marine Corps Hilda Perez

Louis Conter is known for being one of the members of the small group of remaining USS Arizona survivors. Conter joined the Navy just a few months after high school and was only 20 years old on December 7, 1941. According to an interview from 2016, Conter went to the Arizona right after boot camp.

Conter was on duty when the first Japanese planes came in and he saw the initial attack unfold before his eyes. After fighting for about 35 minutes, Conter and the crew members still standing saved as many injured men as possible and took them to the hospital when the bombings subsided. Before the attack, Conter had received permission to attend flight school, but his orders were lost during the attack. However, Conter was sent to flight school the following January and went on to serve went on to serve with Navy squadron VP-11.

7. James Bilotta (January 5, 1920 – September 9, 2018)

Oldest Age Reached: 98 in 2018
Place of Birth: Somerville, Massachusetts
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant

James Bilottaphoto source:  Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau

James Bilotta died very recently at the age of 98 and is one of the ex-Marines on this list. Before his death, Bilotta was the oldest citizen of Derry, New Hampshire and had received Derry’s Boston Post Cane, which is given to the oldest resident of many New England towns.

Bilotta joined the Marines when he was just 19 years old and two years later was eating his breakfast when the first bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor. After surviving the attack, Bilotta stayed in the military until he was honorably discharged in 1945 at the end of World War II. Bilotta returned to Massachusetts and met his wife not long after. The couple eventually settled in Derry in 1985 and raised a family together. Near the end of his life, Bilotta said, “One thing I must say is that I have had a very good life and I don’t believe I would change any of it. I married a wonderful woman and I have wonderful children. What other man can be that blessed?”

6. John Anderson (August 26, 1917 – November 14, 2015)

Oldest Age Reached: 98 in 2015
Place of Birth: Verona, North Dakota – grew up in Dilworth, Minnesota
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Boatswain’s Mate Second Class

John Andersonphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons via U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Laurie Dexter

John Anderson was one of a handful of USS Arizona survivors until he passed away at 98 years old in late 2015. While all of the Pearl Harbor attack survivors have harrowing stories, Anderson’s is one of the saddest as he wasn’t the only member of the Anderson family there that day. John’s twin brother, Delbert “Jake” Anderson, was also serving aboard the USS Arizona and unfortunately, he did not survive.

After a bomb hit Anderson’s turret before he could make it to his post, the explosion killed several crew members, including his brother. At the time, Anderson did not know that Jake did not survive and he ended up taking a small boat back to the wreckage to look for his brother. Anderson’s shipmate Chester Rose joined him and they picked up survivors, but tragedy struck again and Anderson was the only survivor when the small boat was hit. A year after Anderson’s death, his ashes were interred in the remnants of his old turret at the USS Arizona Memorial, to be spiritually reunited with his twin brother, whose body was never recovered.

5. Lonnie Cook (November 19, 1920 – Present)

Oldest Age Reached: 98 in 2018 – will be turning 99 later in the year
Place of Birth: Morris, Oklahoma
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Seaman First Class

Lonnie Cookphoto source:  DVIDS via U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Hilda Perez

Lonnie Cook is one of the few Pearl Harbor survivors who is still living at the time of this writing. However, according to a GoFundMe campaign posted in July 2018, Cook has been facing increased health challenges and any donations would help with his continued care. Due to his declining health, Cook no longer attends Pearl Harbor related events and the last time he visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii was on the 70th anniversary of the attack.

Cook had just taken a shower on the USS Arizona and made plans to explore Honolulu just a few moments before the first wave of attacks at Pearl Harbor. Initially, Cook and his fellow crew members thought nothing of the rumbling as they were below deck, but chief turret captain informed them that the Japanese were bombing the fleet. Cook rescued as many people as he could as the Arizona sank and immediately volunteered the next day to go back to sea.

4. Lauren Bruner (November 4, 1920 – Present)

Oldest Age Reached: 98 in 2018 – will be turning 99 later in the year
Place of Birth: Shelton, Washington
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Fire Controlman Third Class

Lauren Brunerphoto source:  DVIDS via U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Hilda Perez

Lauren Bruner is one of the oldest and last living survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack and will be turning 99 later this year (2018). As one of the remaining survivors of the USS Arizona, Bruner and a team of researchers are working tirelessly to assemble a complete database of the ship’s crew members.  Bruner and the team are compiling biographies, personal stories, and portraits and hope that one day vistors to Pearl Harbor will be able to access this information.

Bruner was only 21 years old when the attack took place and he is known for being the next-to-last man to leave the Arizona. Recently, in late 2017, Bruner released his memoir titled Second to the Last to Leave USS Arizona, which is one of the most detailed personal accounts of the events that took place on December 7, 1941. Bruner currently lives in Hawaii and gives guided tours of the Arizona Memorial through Voices of Pearl Harbor.

3. Joe Langdell (October 12, 1914 – February 4, 2015)

Oldest Age Reached: 100 in 2015
Place of Birth: Wilton, New Hampshire
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Ensign – retired as a Lieutenant Commander

Joe Langdellphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons via U.S. Navy

Joe Langdell was one of the oldest surviving member of the USS Arizona before he died in early 2015 at the age of 100. Langdell was not on the Arizona when the attack on Pearl Harbor started, but was asleep in an officers’ barracks because of his temporary shore duty. As soon as Langdell and the other soldiers in the barracks realized what happened, they rushed to shore and Langdell hopelessly watched as the entire USS Arizona was set ablaze.

Langdell continued his naval service until the end of World War II and retired as a lieutenant commander. About fifty years after the attack, Langdell took part in a reconciliation ceremony. Langdell and former dive bomber pilot Zenji Abe, who took part in the Japanese raid, visited the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor and placed a wreath at the wall that listed the names of the Arizona’s fallen crew members. The moment was captured in the documentary film, USS Arizona: The Life & Death Of A Lady.

2. Jim Downing (August 22, 1913 – February 13, 2018)

Oldest Age Reached: 104 in early 2018
Place of Birth: Oak Grove, Missouri
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Gunner’s Mate 1st Class – retired as a Lieutenant

Jim Downingphoto source:  U.S. Department of Defense via Lisa Ferdinando

Before his death in early 2018, Jim Downing was known for being the second oldest survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of all the survivors on this list, Downing made the most of the attention he received for being one of the longest-lived Pearl Harbor survivors. Downing wrote a memoir in 2016, titled The Other Side of Infamy: My Journey through Pearl Harbor and the World of War. Because he was 102 at the time, Downing was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest living author – after his death, Guinness World Records changed his title to oldest author ever.

On the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Downing was ashore at home with his wife. Following his initial shock, Downing bravely made his way down to his ship, the USS West Viriginia. As he was putting out fires on the West Virginia, Downing tried to identify every body he passed and after the attack he wrote to as many families of his fallen comrades as he could. Downing continued to serve in the Navy until 1956.

1. Ray Chavez (March 1912 – Present)

Oldest Age Reached: 106 in 2018
Place of Birth: San Bernadino, California
Military Branch and Rank:  U.S. Navy Quartermaster

Ray Chavezphoto source:  U.S. Department of Defense via U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle

At 106 years old, Ray Chavez is the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor. Chavez is still going strong and continues to make public appearances at major events, such as a Memorial Day service earlier in the year in Washington, D.C.

In 1941, Chavez was serving in the U.S. Navy as a Quartermaster aboard the USS Condor. The Condor had detected the Japanese sub the morning of the attack before returning to the harbor. Chavez received a frantic phone call from his wife, who was witnessing the attack back at Pearl Harbor while trying to rouse Chavez from his sleep. As the Condor pulled into the harbor, Chavez recalls seeing all the ships in the harbor on fire. Following the attack, Chavez served on a transport ship that brought soldiers to the Pacific. Chavez left the Navy after World War II ended.

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There are 2 comments

  1. Lori Gutenberg |

    My Dad, Phil Tveten, DOB 10/20/1920 was on the USS West Virginia (right next to USS Arizona). His ship was sunk and more than 100 died. He is alive and well in Tucson, AZ

  2. Joseph C Braxton |

    J>L> Wilson, Torpedoman’s Mate 3rd class was aboard USS Dale DD 353, which was moored in Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec 7th 1941. Sept. 11, 1919- present 99 years old La Grange, N.C.


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