It’s been some time since Lillian and Bob Reed went together to a gathering of survivors of the Japanese attack on Oahu 75 years ago Wednesday that largely vaporized America’s resistance to entering World War II.
Navy veteran Bob Reed, who’d witnessed the killing and devastation from the island’s heavily strafed Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, died back in 2004. But to this day, his widow rarely misses the monthly luncheons and other activities of Sonoma County’s now tiny Pearl Harbor survivors group.
“I really feel that I should go. I feel like I belong,” Lil Reed said.
The Reeds met and married late in life. Lil remembers that for their first date on Dec. 6, 1998, they took a walk and through most of it Bob talked about his buddies in the Pearl Harbor group and the following morning’s anniversary observance.
Lil Reed won’t ever forget the look on his face when she mentioned the day of her birth: Dec. 7. Every year until Bob died, they began her birthday celebration with the annual tradition that continues Wednesday with the 9 a.m. Pearl Harbor memorial ceremony in the club room of the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.
“He really felt bonded to the Pearl Harbor organization,” Lil Reed said. “He was very much into it.”
Bob Reed savored the get-togethers will fellow survivors and ventured often to local schools to talk with students about the causes, ramifications and lessons of the world-altering attack of Dec. 7, 1941. Since his death 12 years ago, his widow has remained steadfast to the dwindling Pearl Harbor group, her presence a living tribute to her husband.
In the North Bay and across the country, most of the sailors, Marines and soldiers who survived the aerial assault have grown old and died. Where remnants of the former Pearl Harbor Survivors Association still convene, the widows typically outnumber the veterans.
When the Santa Rosa group meets each month, there’s most often just one veteran of the attack, Larry Petretti, and two widows: Lil Reed and Florence Bates, whose husband, Tom, died in 2008.
A similar situation will play out Wednesday morning at the Pearl Harbor memorial observance in Lakeport. Speaking will be Lake County’s only known survivor of the attack, Bill Slater, and two widows: Alice Darrow and Charlotte Bower.
When Darrow’s husband, Dean, passed away in 1991, she didn’t for a moment consider excusing herself from the Lake County group’s meetings, socials and formal Dec. 7 observances.
Her husband “was very proud of our chapter,” she said. “I carried on after he died.”
Often at Pearl Harbor memorials and reunions, Alice Darrow recounts how she met her future husband some months after a bomb blast hurled him off the convulsing battleship USS West Virginia and into the water.
Fire Controlman 3rd Class Dean Darrow, then 24, was treated for a wound to his back and returned to duty aboard a destroyer. He often felt faint. When, in early 1942, he couldn’t get out of his bunk he was sent to a hospital ship for tests.
There, doctors make a shocking discovery: A Japanese machine gun bullet had struck him in the back, pierced a lung and lodged in the muscle of his heart.