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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.

Darrow was shipped to the naval hospital at Vallejo’s Mare Island for surgery to remove the bullet. He was assigned a young nurse, Alice Becker.

Just before he was administered anesthetic, he said to her, “Miss Becky, if I come out of surgery, will you go on liberty with me?”

The former nurse recalls, “we didn’t think he was going to make it.” She told the sailor nearly 75 years ago, sure, if he survives she’ll go out with him.

Moments after he came to, Darrow said drowsily to the nurse, “We’re going on liberty aren’t we?” They did, and on Aug. 1, 1942, were married.

They moved near the shore of Clear Lake in 1977 and nearly a decade later joined the newly formed Luther Burbank Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Alice Darrow said her husband loved the camaraderie with his fellow vets, the story swapping.

Until his death just days after the 50th anniversary of the attack, Dean Darrow told people, “the best thing I got out of the service was my nurse.” He never went to a Pearl Harbor meeting or party or observance without the bullet that was extracted from his heart.

Today in Lakeport, his widow will show it and tell a bit of Dean’s story.

Grace Ginn, the widow of career Army officer Harry Ginn, doesn’t plan to attend Wednesday morning’s ceremony in Santa Rosa. She turned 98 earlier this month and though she does well she decided not long back it was time for her to let go of the monthly meetings and memorials and such.

But she was active in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association for decades with her husband, who 75 years ago fired at invading Japanese planes at Oahu’s Schofield Barracks.

To be part of the highly sociable community of Pearl Harbor survivors and wives “was a very important time for me,” Grace Ginn said. “I think it was for Harry, too.”

She said her husband suffered greatly after the war, and not because of what he endured and witnessed at Pearl Harbor. Harry Ginn took part in wresting a number of South Pacific islands from the Japanese, and in one battle he took grenade shrapnel to the gut, then contracted hepatitis from a tainted blood transfusion.

Grace Ginn is forever grateful that in 1945 the Army sent him to Torney General Hospital in Palm Springs where she comforted and assisted patients as an employee of the American Red Cross.

Harry Ginn had been patched up pretty well when they married on Dec. 1 of ‘45. Harry remained in the army and went on to command troops in Korea and to serve at the Pentagon and, ultimately, at the Presidio in San Francisco.

His widow said that through to his death in 2008, he endured the effects of physical problems borne of combat, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He was never truly free of the effects of the war,” Grace Ginn said. “They were with him all of his life.”

Even so, she said, “We had a very good life. Sixty-two and a half years.” They were years sweetened for decades by their friendships with other couples active in the Pearl Harbor group that’s now down to the final few.

It pleases Grace that her husband will be remembered at Wednesday morning’s observance in Santa Rosa. When the last man active in the local group, Larry Petretti, strikes a small bell for each of the Pearl survivors who lived out their lives in the North Bay, one toll will be for Harry.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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