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Oldest Survivor of Pearl Harbor Shot Back at Planes

Clayton Schenkelberg, 103, saw it as just doing his job, his son says
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2021 12:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – When Japanese warplanes began attacking Pearl Harbor, Clayton Schenkelberg volunteered to drive a train packed with torpedoes to safety. Then he got a rifle and began shooting back. "He didn’t think it was anything special," his son said. "He had a job to do and he did it." The Navy veteran, thought to be the oldest survivor of the 1941 attack, died in a senior care home in San Diego, the Union-Tribune reports. He was 103. In his last year, his family said, Schenkelberg caught the coronavirus but didn't become ill. About 50,000 US service members were on Oahu on the day of the attack; about 2,400 were killed and 1,200 injured. No official count of survivors exists, but Patrick Schenkelberg said he was told by officials that his father was the oldest. Stuart Hedley, a 99-year-old fellow survivor, said that was his understanding, too.

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When Schenkelberg was honored at events, he deflected. "We're still paying our respects to those who didn't make it,” he said. Schenkelberg stayed in the Navy for two decades longer. He and his wife had seven children. "He was an outstanding gentleman, very humble, and always ready to lend a hand," Hedley said. "I'm honored to have called him a friend." In 2019, Schenkelberg was the only Pearl Harbor survivor to attend the annual commemoration at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, per the Los Angeles Times. He received a standing ovation. First-person accounts are important to understanding such events, a museum official said, adding, "When that history is gone, the story will change." The daughter of a serviceman stationed in Hawaii, who survived the attack herself as a 10-year-old, said, "It will be sad when everybody's gone." (Read more obituary stories.)

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