October 07, 2016 - 10:47 AM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The memories of bombs falling on the battleship USS Arizona were too painful for Raymond Haerry to ever return to Pearl Harbor, while he lived.
But that's precisely where he wants to be laid to rest.
Haerry was one of the last living crew members on the Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He died Sept. 27 in Rhode Island at age of 94, said his son, Raymond Haerry Jr. He was one of six remaining Arizona survivors.
Hundreds of sailors and Marines are entombed in the ship's sunken hull.
"As he was getting closer to the end, I think he felt that if there's any place that he'd like to be at rest, it would be with his crewmates, the people who suffered and died on that day," Haerry Jr. told The Associated Press on Friday.
Haerry Jr. said his father never wanted to talk about what happened on Dec. 7, 1941. But after 50 years of asking questions, Haerry Jr. said he pieced together the narrative.
His father, then 19 years old, ran to an anti-aircraft gun after the first explosions, but the ammunition was in storage.
He tried to get ammunition, but a large bomb detonated first, igniting fuel and powder magazines. Most of the bow was instantly separated, and the ship was lifted out of the water.
Haerry Jr. said his father swam through flaming waters, sweeping his arms in front of him to push the flames away. He shot at Japanese planes from shore. Later, he helped retrieve corpses from the harbour.
The ship lost 1,177 men, nearly four-fifths of its crew.
Documentary filmmaker Tim Gray recently interviewed Haerry for "Remember Pearl Harbor," a film for this year's 75th anniversary of the attack.
"He struggled toward the end of his life to speak, but you could tell by looking into his eyes that he remembered everything about that morning," Gray said.
Anytime a World War II veteran dies, Gray said, a piece of history is lost.
Haerry served for 25 years in the Navy, retiring as a master chief. He lived with his wife of 70 years, Evelyn, at a nursing home in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Evelyn Haerry is now 95 years old.
Haerry Jr. cried as he recounted his father's story.
"It had to be a nightmare," he said. "Even though war hadn't been declared yet, he was one of the first American heroes of World War II and I'll always be proud of him, what he did and how he acted."
Only USS Arizona survivors can be interred on the ship. Haerry Jr. said he'll take his father's ashes there when he can afford the trip.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016