Ninety-two-year-old Pearl Harbor veteran Don Blair of Rohnert Park died last weekend, just days after poor health kept him from joining four local Pearl survivors who gathered Friday to mark the 71st anniversary of the attack.
"He died in his sleep," said niece Brenda Thomas of Sebastopol. "I'm glad he made it through Pearl Harbor Day."
Blair died Saturday night or sometime Sunday. A visiting home-care aide found him Sunday afternoon.
He'd witnessed horrific effects of Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, attack from below decks on the torpedoed and bombed battleship USS Nevada. He was the fifth Pearl Harbor survivor in Sonoma County to die from complications of old age within the past year; no more than about six are known to remain in the county.
Blair had been ill for more than a year and wasn't able to attend Friday's memorial program in Santa Rosa. But days earlier, in a phone interview, he spoke with passion about the legacy of the attack that drew the U.S. into World War II.
"Pearl Harbor was a long time ago for me, but it still has meaning," he said Wednesday.
He said he hopes the surprise attack will long inspire Americans to be vigilant of potential enemies.
"I think we should definitely keep an eye out on China," he said.
Beyond that, Blair said a lasting lesson of Pearl Harbor should be that Americans must never simply accept their government's justifications for going to war. He said it was many years after World War II that he came to accept that the U.S. was not an entirely innocent victim at Oahu and had, at the least, provoked Japan.
"We should always be aware that things that have happened before can repeat themselves in history," he said.