S.D. 'Day of Infamy' survivors plan to revisit Pearl Harbor

Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:25 am

Ruth A. Moller|The Miller Press

S.D. ‘Day of Infamy’ survivors plan to revisit Pearl Harbor

Leo and Vet-2.psd

KONRAD O'HEARN (seated) and Leo Istas of Miller are both WWII veterans. O'Hearn is a survivor of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was a fitting phone call, the day before Veterans’ Day. Bill Williams, formerly of Miller, now of Sioux Falls, called the Press about a World War II veteran who would be coming through Miller that day. Williams thought it would be a good story.

The veteran, Konrad O’Hearn, is one of five South Dakotans still living who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.

Plans are to have a “final reunion” at Pearl Harbor on December 7 for survivors of the attack that took place 70 years ago. That attack killed more than 2,400 people and led to America’s entry into World War II.

Williams, who is a friend of O’Hearn, said there were two problems about attending the December 7 reunion: wives are not included; and it could be rigorous for survivors who aren’t in good health.

So plans are for the five remaining South Dakota survivors to visit Pearl Harbor in January, when things are less hectic.

Williams is a Naval veteran, and he was at Pearl Harbor later, while in the Navy, and while in the Merchant Marines. He explained his interest in the World War II survivors. “Konrad is a friend, and he hadn’t been back to Pearl Harbor since the attack. I asked if he’d like to go, and he said he would. So we started thinking about fundraisers to help make this happen.”

A second East River survivor is Darrell Christopherson, Vermillion. His health isn’t all that good, either, so fundraising efforts are underway for him, too.

Christopherson signed up for the Navy when he was 17, and was sent to Hawaii, where he was assigned to the USS Vestal. In an earlier interview with S.D. Public Broadcasting, he recalled, “We got hit twice while we were alongside the Arizona, probably bombs that were meant for the Arizona. We got one that hit us up forward and exploded in one of the storerooms, we fought fires up there for most of the day and one in the back half and went all the way out the bottom.”

O’Hearn, now 89, remembers the attack well. On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, he was only 19, and was below decks on the USS Maryland. He was scrubbing his white hats when his ship took two bomb hits, killing five of his shipmates. He rushed topside, where he witnessed the attack and the beginning of World War II.

The next few days, the crew of the Maryland worked feverishly to rescue the men of the USS Oklahoma, which capsized in the bombing.

The reason O’Hearn and his companions were in Miller is because they were on their way to Faulkton and Hoven, where the schools have been involved in fundraising efforts for the “Last Visit.”

Christopherson wasn’t up to the trip, but O’Hearn, who uses a walker, was anxious to visit Faulkton the evening of November 10, and Hoven during their Veteran’s Day program the following day, where he would make a few remarks.

Seems the stories of O’Hearn and Christopherson were featured on KELO Television on July 4, and it attracted attention “up north.”

Hoven’s superintendent of schools wrote about the “Pennies for Pearl Harbor” efforts. “Students, staff and community members will be holding a ‘penny war’ to raise funds for the trip which will culminate on November 11th during the Veteran’s Day program at the Hoven Elementary School gymnasium. Along with the penny war, ‘chance tickets’ will be sold at the program to win one of the four autographed copies of Blue Stars by Greg Latza, a book about South Dakota’s WWII Veterans, as well as four authentic WWII-era newspapers. South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson also arranged to have a United States Flag to raffle that has been flown over the nation’s capitol in Washington D.C. and over the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.”

The three other survivors are in the West River area. Williams says fundraisers are also being conducted in those areas.