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Kansas men among few living links to 1941 Pearl Harbor attack

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, at 2:48 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, at 10:37 p.m.

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Honoring Pearl Harbor survivors

Two local survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor will be honored before Friday’s Wichita Thunder game against Tulsa. Friday marks the 71st anniversary of the attack. Paul Aschbrenner and Arthur Dunn were serving onboard the USS Oklahoma. The game starts at 7:05 p.m. at Intrust Bank Arena.

On Dec. 28, the Thunder and the Kansas Honor Flight Program will join for a fundraiser to send World War II veterans to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. People who would like to donate or buy tickets for the game can contact Chris Ross at cross@wichitathunder.com.

Arthur Dunn doesn’t know what to make of it.

For the first time, there will be no large-scale recognition of the Pearl Harbor anniversary.

It’s been 71 years since the Japanese attack and when he nearly lost his life as a turret gunner on the USS Oklahoma.

He is one of the few living links in Kansas to that “date which will live in infamy” – Dec. 7, 1941.

Now 89, the former president of the Wichita chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and Belle Plaine resident is afraid Americans will forget about the day that thrust the United States into World War II and changed the course of world history.

Only he and another Pearl Harbor Navy veteran, Paul Aschbrenner of Derby, are still making public appearances and talking about their experiences from that day. It is estimated less than half a dozen Pearl Harbor survivors remain in the Wichita area. Due to declining membership, the local chapter dissolved – as did the national chapter – last year.

“We can’t find anybody to continue,” Dunn said. “They are taking us to the hockey game Friday night but there’s no official ceremony. A lot of the World War II veterans have passed away. Another generation is coming in. I sometimes wonder if they know where Pearl Harbor is. When I was in boot camp and was told I was going to be going to Pearl Harbor, I said, ‘Where’s that?’ They said, ‘You’ll find out.’ I did, too.”

Dunn and Aschbrenner were both serving on the USS Oklahoma.

Dunn scrambled to his post when the first torpedo hit the ship.

For 45 years after the attack, he couldn’t talk — and wouldn’t talk — about that day.

Then, when he could talk about it, his wife, Marlene, helped him present programs to local groups. But since her death in 2003, it’s been hard again.

“There was a time when I was kept busy talking about it, going to schools and talking. It got to where it was a 24-hour-a-day deal. You’d relive it. During the day, you could do something like read to take your mind off it. But then, at night, when you’d go to sleep, you couldn’t control it, it would all come back again. So, I’ve slacked off giving talks.”

Besides, he says, the last time he talked to a class about Pearl Harbor, no student asked a question.

“It didn’t seem like the kids were really interested,” he said. “As long as I had my wife with me, she could help with that.”

The death knell for any organization is when you run out of members, said Jim Denison, a Vietnam veteran who helped organize the local Pearl Harbor observance for many years.

“Age catches up to all of us,” Denison said. “Americans are a very good, loyal and patriotic people – but we have a short memory.”

For years the Wichita observance was held on Dec. 7 at 10:55 a.m. Central Standard Time, the exact moment Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

In less than two hours, 2,402 Americans had been killed and more than 1,000 others were wounded.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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