December 7, 1941, marked a fateful day etched in history (Pearl Harbor), forever altering the trajectory of the United States. It’s a day that lives vividly in the memory of Ira “Ike” Schab, a resilient sailor who found himself thrust into the chaos and horror of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor Survivor, 103, Returns to Commemorate 82nd Anniversary:
Now, at 103 years old, Schab prepares to return to the hallowed grounds of Pearl Harbor, joined by a dwindling number of fellow survivors, to commemorate the 82nd anniversary of that fateful event that propelled America into World War II.
Schab’s recollection of that harrowing morning remains vivid. Freshly groomed and clad in his sailor’s attire aboard the USS Dobbin, he heard the urgent call for a fire rescue party. Rushing topside, the sight that greeted him was surreal—the USS Utah capsizing and Japanese planes dominating the skies. Amidst the chaos, he rallied alongside fellow sailors, engaging in a frantic effort to feed ammunition to anti-aircraft guns. Despite his slender frame as a 21-year-old, weighing only 140 pounds, he summoned untapped strength to lift crates of shells nearly twice his weight.
Reflecting on those moments, Schab recounts the sheer alarm and fear that gripped them all. Uncertainty loomed, with the realization that their lives hung in the balance amidst the unanticipated assault.
As the years have passed, the ranks of Pearl Harbor survivors have diminished rapidly. Presently, only a handful, including Schab, remain to bear witness to that tragic day. The lone survivor of the USS Arizona, Lou Conter, stands among this dwindling group, emphasizing the irreplaceable value of firsthand accounts that serve as a poignant reminder of sacrifices.
David Kilton of the National Park Service acknowledges the profound impact of these survivors’ narratives, underscoring the shift in focus towards cherishing their shared experiences. The loss of this generation accentuates the need to honor their sacrifices and the descriptions they’ve selflessly imparted.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does not precisely record statistics on the remaining Pearl Harbor survivors. However, dwindling numbers are evident within the broader context of World War II veterans. Of the 16 million who served, approximately 120,000 were alive as of October, with an estimated 131 passing away each day, according to departmental data.
For many years, Schab confined his Pearl Harbor experiences mainly to himself. Only a decade ago, he began openly sharing his story, embracing opportunities to enlighten his family, students, and history enthusiasts. His return to Pearl Harbor multiple times since then has been a tribute—a means to honor the fallen comrades who didn’t survive the attack.
The upcoming ceremony, set against the backdrop of the USS Arizona Memorial, will offer a moment of reflection at 7:55 a.m., mirroring the precise time the assault commenced on that infamous Sunday morning. It’s a poignant occasion to pay homage to the over 2,300 service members lost and to commemorate the sacrifices made on that tragic day.
Schab’s USS Dobbin suffered losses, with three sailors perishing—one during the attack and two succumbing later to injuries sustained from a bomb’s fragments. Their sacrifice is a testament to the price paid in defending their nation’s honor.
Schab’s journey didn’t end at Pearl Harbor. He served in the Pacific throughout World War II, navigating through the New Hebrides, the Mariana Islands, and Okinawa. Remarkably, despite the dangerous environments, he emerged unscathed, a fact he attributes to a guardian angel watching over him.
Post-war, Schab’s career as an electrical engineer contributed to the Apollo program, and in retirement, he shared his passion for nature as a park docent. Bonded by his time in the Navy, Schab maintained lifelong connections with his fellow bandmates, organizing annual reunions that spanned decades.
Schab’s pace may have slowed as time advanced, yet his spirit remained undiminished. Grateful for each day, he cherishes simple pleasures—indulging in big band jazz, savoring audiobooks, and relishing encounters with new acquaintances.
His upcoming pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, accompanied by his daughter and caregivers, holds profound significance. A GoFundMe account supports their journey, epitomizing Schab’s enduring gratitude for life’s blessings.
In essence, Schab’s story is a testament to resilience, sacrifice, and enduring gratitude for life’s precious moments. As he stands among the last surviving eyewitnesses, his journey underscores the importance of remembering, honoring, and learning from the sacrifices made on that pivotal day in history.