Raymond Haerry, 94, one of the last alive of those who were on the USS Arizona during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Tuesday, Sept. 27, in Rhode Island.
Haerry was barely 18 when he enlisted in early 1940. He had enrolled at MIT after finishing high school in New Jersey, but he didn’t like his classes and finally dropped out. In September 1940, he joined the USS Arizona as its crew prepared the mighty battleship for war.
On Dec. 7, 1941, he was aboard the Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, launching America’s entry into World War II and forever changing the course of modern history.
The explosions blew Haerry off the ship, into the water, but he survived. He made a career in the Navy, sailing the seas during World War II and the Korean War, teaching officer candidates on land in the years after.
‘They could hear the bombs’
Of the 1,512 sailors and Marines assigned to the Arizona when it sank, 1,177 died in the attack.
Of those who survived, Haerry’s death leaves five remaining survivors:
• Lauren Bruner, 95, of La Mirada, Calif.
• Lou Conter, 95, of Grass Valley, Calif.
• Lonnie Cook, 95, of Morris, Okla.
• Ken Potts, 95, of Provo, Utah
• Donald Stratton, 94, of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Haerry’s son, Raymond Haerry Jr., said he wanted his father’s remains to be interred in the submerged Arizona at Pearl Harbor, an honor accorded men who were members of the ship’s final crew. Those arrangements are pending.
Haerry was born Nov. 28, 1921, in Patterson, N.J. He grew up in Patterson and, after finishing high school, enrolled at MIT.
His son, Raymond Jr., said his dad and a buddy used to sneak off campus and hop freight trains to see how far they could get. After a while, he missed enough classes that he decided to leave school. Once he turned 18, he joined the Navy.
His first assignment was aboard the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier. He heard the Arizona was looking for crew members, so he answered the call and, in September 1940, he boarded the battleship and waited with it as it was refitted in Bremerton, Wash.
On board the Arizona, he worked on the deck crew, cleaning and painting, operating the boats that ferried crew members to shore. He had taken a load of crew members to shore at Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7 and was eating breakfast back on the ship when the Japanese attack started.
“He said they could hear the bombs, hear the planes immediately,” Raymond Jr. said in a 2014 interview.
Haerry could see enemy planes strafing the deck. He made it to his battle station on the anti-aircraft gun battery, but within minutes, the largest of the bombs rocked the Arizona.
“He said he felt the entire ship lift up eight or 10 feet out of the water,” Raymond Jr. said. “When it came down, he was knocked into the water, overboard. He was blown into the water.”
He half-walked, half-swam to nearby Ford Island, where he found a machine gun and began firing at planes until the attack subsided.
‘One of the proudest days’
Haerry would go on to serve on other ships during WWII and the Korean War and then taught at the officer candidate school in Newport, R.I., until he retired from the Navy in 1964.
Raymond Jr. said his father once was asked whether he wanted to be promoted to the rank of ensign, which would allow him to rise through the officers’ ranks.
“He declined it,” Raymond Jr. said. “He didn’t want to be an officer. I think he enjoyed the camaraderie, the closeness of teaching people, instructing these guys.”
In December 2011, on the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Haerry was honored at a ceremony at the Rhode Island state Capitol, given the Rhode Island Cross, the highest civilian honor the state bestows.
“It was a wonderful day,” his son said. “I had to help my father out of his seat, but he stood strong and tall right in front of this general. … I think this was one of the proudest days of my father’s life.”
Although Haerry rarely talked about Pearl Harbor, his son was able to piece together the story over the years and would tell others what his dad had done.
“To go through that at 19 years of age to me is incomprehensible,” his son said. “He’s a hero.”