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Day of infamy survivors are slipping away

It took Jerry Elliott 15 years to keep from running for cover whenever he heard the wail of a siren.

The same with firecrackers. For the longest time they sounded just like gunfire from that morning 65 years ago at Pearl Harbor.

Running kept the 23-year-old sailor alive. It was instinct.

"Once I stopped the running, I would still make an effort to move if I felt the fear," he said, "at least until my brain caught up."

But the 88-year-old can't run anymore. He can't walk, either. The stroke he had a year ago left him with little use of the right side of his body. He uses his left foot to scoot his wheelchair around his small half of a room at the Heartland of Brooksville nursing home.

Five years ago, Elliott was one of a dozen Hernando County members still attending meetings held by Chapter 15 of the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Today, the former group president is one of five who are still around.

Even then, the survivors all have troublesome ailments: diabetes, clogged arteries and cancer, among others.

It got so bad that about two years ago, the group stopped meeting because people stopped attending.

Formed nationally in 1958, the Hernando chapter of the survivors association began holding meetings in 1991. At its peak, about 25 people showed at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 on Spring Hill Drive once a month.

By 2001, about half that number came. Sometimes only two or three showed. Eventually, Elliott and the others decided to call it quits.

Other chapters around the nation have done the same.

From beneath his white hat adorned with the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association emblem - a red fish snared in the talon of an eagle flying over water - Elliott's pale blue eyes reveal that his mind is sharp, though his body fails him.

He knows that he is a living memory, so he talks about the attack whenever he gets the chance. But, like his fellow survivors, only if someone asks.

Eighty-three-year-old Lynn Roy never did like to dwell. He doesn't think anyone else should, either, especially on something that happened so long ago.

"If they don't ask, I don't say anything," Roy said, sitting at the kitchen table in his Brookridge home.

From beneath a short-sleeved shirt the tattooed words "Pearl Harbor" on his right bicep peek out. The full, crude ink drawing depicts a bomb raining down with others filling the sky.

"For 18-year-old mutton heads," he said, shaking his head and rubbing his arm. "That's what these are for."

Though his memory has begun to slip, Roy vividly recalls attempting to sleep in on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Someone on his destroyer yelled that the Japanese had attacked.

On deck, he used target ammunition to fire at the planes flying overhead. The effort was fruitless with that kind of weaponry. "We weren't ready, we were dead in the water," Roy said.

Also 18 at the time, a baby-faced Larry Poulin remembers sitting down to a meal of stewed figs, navy beans and coffee while on board the USS Nevada. He didn't even have a chance to grimace when a torpedo came through the mess hall and blew up a few decks below.

Knocked off his chair, Poulin stood up to see that the weapon had taken off a chunk of the table where he had sat moments before. He could see the sky above. He was more than thankful to only have a deep cut on his right arm.

"Some guys got their heads blown off," the 83-year-old said, sitting in the living room of his home. His cane rested near his easy chair.

"There were a lot of bodies."

A 23-year-old Allen Hartshorne helped bury those bodies - more than 2,400 people.

Every once in a while, the 88-year-old shuffles to the spot where he keeps copies of the pictures he has of the grave digging in his Hill 'n Dale home. "Every man got a decent burial," he said, his eyes becoming glassy. "But people don't want to hear that crap anymore. It takes too much time to sit down and talk about it. They can see it on TV."

For he and Bill Hartman, another 88-year-old with stark memories of the bombing, the yearly anniversary keeps alive the memory of what happened.

On the phone from his Timber Pines home, Hartman said he remembered bullets whizzing past him.

"I beat a dog running that morning," he said, between deep, labored breaths.

Stationed on the USS Honolulu, he had been sent to train on 20- and 40-mm guns for the weekend at Ford Island.

All that running kept him from getting hit. But like Elliott, he can't run anymore.

"I've lived a good full life, we all have," Hartman said. "No, I don't talk about it much. But I'm glad I got it off my chest."

Times researcher Angie Holan contributed to this story. Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

TOUCHING BASE

Those who were there

In 2001, the St. Petersburg Times profiled 12 members of the Hernando County Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing. This year, for the 65th anniversary, we caught up with five - those still alive and living in the county.

They are: Gerald F. Elliott, 88, of Brooksville; Allen T. Hartshorne, 88, of Hill 'n Dale; William G. Hartman, 88, of Spring Hill; Laurence A. Poulin, 83, of Spring Hill; and Lynn Jay Roy, 83, of Brooksville.

The whereabouts of a sixth former member, Charles P. Kipp, could not be confirmed.

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