Dwindling few refuse to let Pearl Harbor fade

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat KingsIt was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. He’d stick around after they were gone to turn out the lights. This is the way our national treasures joke around when they get together. They cheated death at Pearl Harbor 66 years ago today, but they can’t hold the Grim Reaper off forever, they know. From a peak membership of almost 20,000, the association is now down to less than 5,000 nationally, and many of them are too sick or infirm to make the meetings anymore. There were once 180 vibrant chapters nationally. Now it’s down to a little more than 100, and many of them really exist only on paper, the guys say. Their chapter used to rent halls for the local Pearl Harbor Day dinner. Now they rent a room – and it doesn’t have to be very large. Art Herriford pulled rank Thursday as national vice president – and soon to be president – of the rapidly shrinking Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. “I’ve been officially designated to turn off the lights,” the 85-year-old Van Nuys man said, smiling at his buddies. Herriford volunteered to be the last Pearl Harbor survivor standing. Joe Ceo, 87, George Keene, 84, and Joe Mariani, 88 – a few of his pals in the San Fernando Valley chapter of the association – had all volunteered for the job, too, but Art reminded them that rank has its privileges. There are only 14 members left in the San Fernando Valley chapter from a high of more than 80 less than two decades ago. Their time is running out, our national treasures say, but one thing they don’t want to ever run out of is our memory of what Dec. 7, 1941, meant to this country. So they still hit the road during the year in their wheelchairs, walkers and on legs that have a hard time making it across a parking lot to keep Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day alive. Ceo is at his daughter’s Newhall elementary school today talking to her class of sixth-graders about what he was doing 66 years ago. Keene has a stack of letters in his den from school kids thanking him for stopping by their classrooms to open their eyes. Herriford – the designated last man standing – recently spent more than an hour after a talk at one school signing autographs. “Imagine that,” he said. “Autographs, like I was a movie star or something.” You guys were bigger than movie stars, Art. You weren’t acting. You were the real thing. “Tell him about the telegraph your parents got a few days after the attack, honey,” said Thelma Mariani, Ceo’s wife. He was on the starboard side of the USS California firing an anti-aircraft gun that kept jamming on him when a torpedo made a direct hit on the battleship’s port side. “We lost 87 men that day, and my father got a telegraph saying I was one of them,” Ceo said. “On New Year’s Day, my parents got another telegraph saying I was alive. “In all the years afterward, they never talked to me about those three weeks they thought I was dead. They couldn’t bring themselves to, and neither could I.” To all the proud men of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, this is your day, gentlemen. Thank you from a grateful country. dennis.mccarthy@dailynews.com, 818-713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more