Region’s last Pearl Harbor survivor dies

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  • Staff Sgt. Dustin Pfister of the United States Marine Corps accompanies World War II veteran Ray Garland to the edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene to lay a wreath in observance of Memorial Day in this 2018 photo. (LOREN BENOIT/Press File)

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    Ray Garland looks out the window of his Coeur d’Alene home as he remembers being on deck of the USS Tennessee to hoist the colors of the American flag the same moment as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. (LOREN BENOIT/Press File)

  • Staff Sgt. Dustin Pfister of the United States Marine Corps accompanies World War II veteran Ray Garland to the edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene to lay a wreath in observance of Memorial Day in this 2018 photo. (LOREN BENOIT/Press File)

  • 1

    Ray Garland looks out the window of his Coeur d’Alene home as he remembers being on deck of the USS Tennessee to hoist the colors of the American flag the same moment as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. (LOREN BENOIT/Press File)

Ray Garland, the area’s only remaining witness to infamy, died Thursday in Coeur d’Alene.

A Pearl Harbor survivor, Garland, 96, of Coeur d’Alene, was the last member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He traveled to Spokane each year for the Dec. 7 Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony. The 2017 event marked the first time Garland was the lone Pearl Harbor survivor in attendance.

“A lot of friends are no longer with me,” he told The Press the following day. “That’s a lonesome feeling. But, after this long, I just feel lucky to be here.”

At Pearl Harbor, Garland, a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, served aboard the USS Tennessee on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese bombers struck the Hawaiian naval base, killing 2,403 American sailors, soldiers and civilians while thrusting the United States into World War II.

The Tennessee was a dreadnought battleship wedged between the USS West Virginia and USS Arizona that fateful Sunday morning. Stationed on one of four commissioned battleships that withstood the attack, Garland remembered the fortune that befell the Tennessee crew that day.

“(The) Tennessee was a lucky ship,” he told The Press in a 2016 interview, 75 years after the attack. “The West Virginia took the torpedoes, and it would have turned over if it was not tied up to us. My ears have rung forever (from the ordinance). I still don’t hear too good to this day.”

While the Tennessee was still operational, it was pinned between other sinking vessels moored to the harbor. Two Japanese dive bombers struck the battleship. Burning oil from the nearby Arizona damaged the hull. While the Tennessee would continue its service throughout the Pacific, it did not leave the battle unscathed.

Neither did Garland. In an attempt to fight the flames below deck, he suffered severe facial injuries that earned him a Purple Heart.

“I couldn’t see for a good 10 days,” he recalled. “That was the last thing I remembered. I spent several days in sick bay.”

Garland’s eyewitness accounts will be particularly missed in part because he was one of the few above deck when the first torpedoes struck. He watched the early moments on Battleship Row unfold while most servicemen were still below deck preparing for their routine Sunday duties.

“I looked back over my shoulder, and I saw these planes coming in,” he remembered. “And this corporal says, ‘Hey, turn around, Garland.’ So I turned around, and the next thing I knew, from about here to across the street, here comes a Japanese dive bomber. I could see the goggles of one of the (Japanese) pilots.”

Garland continued to serve long after the events of Pearl Harbor. He remained at sea for more than two years after the attack, eventually returning to his home in Butte, Mont. He later returned to service, however, earning a second Purple Heart in the Korean War and a Bronze Star for his efforts during its famed Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

“If you live long enough,” he said, “boy, that gets you a lot of attention. There’s not too many of us around, so it’s getting lonesome. I was one of the younger ones …”

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