Remembering Pearl Harbor: Attack survivors of Montana dwindling 70 years later

LEWISTOWN — When Hal Conrad, then 20, called in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today, the man who received his message accused him of being drunk.

But soon the disbelieving voice at the other end became a stutter. We’re under fire, he stammered.

“What the hell do you think I’m trying to tell you?” Conrad yelled.

Conrad is one of a handful of Montanans who carry firsthand memories of the sneak attack that killed 2,335 military personnel, sunk four battleships, three destroyers and two other ships, destroyed 188 planes and launched America’s involvement in World War II.

Conrad is chairman of Big Sky Chapter 1 of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Or, as he said, “state chairman of nothing now.” He’s been notified the national organization will disband at the end of this month. He doesn’t have anyone left to invite to meetings.

                                                                                       Hal Conrad of Lewistown is a Pearl Harbor survivor. TRIBUNE PHOTO/KRISTEN INBODY

Nationwide, the group has fewer than 3,000 members. In Montana, the last of the group’s members have died, left the state or moved into rest homes. Alzheimer’s disease is erasing memories of some of the few Pearl Harbor survivors who remain.

“I’ve lost track of most of them,” Conrad said. “Five years ago, we had 25 people. Now, well, I’ve sent a lot of death notices. We’re down to four or five of us.”

Conrad thought about marking the anniversary in Honolulu. In the past year, he has lost Edward Chlapowski, longtime chapter president. Conrad’s wife of 66 years, six months and five days and his 30-year-old grandson also died in the past year. So instead of returning to Pearl Harbor, he’s spending his money to join his daughter for Christmas in California.

“None of my friends who were there that day are left,” he said. “Most didn’t make it through the raid.”

Chlapowski had just transferred from the USS Arizona to the Pacific commander-in-chief’s office. He sent the message that told the world the United States was under attack: “This is no drill. Pearl Harbor is being bombed by the Japanese. This is no drill.”

He died in January.

George Dolezal, who died three weeks ago in Havre, was one of the few active-duty service men to be armed and readily active in providing anti-aircraft artillery during the bombing.

More information about the destruction inflicted by the Japanese that day, please see Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay.


  1. I visited Hawaii in 1991 and had the honour of seeing Pearl Harbour.

    That place is haunted, truly. We had a veteran telling us about his friend’s narrow escape from the Arizona, he was on a barge beside it and survived. The veteran telling the story had been on leave in the city when the attack took place and was horrified when he found what had happened.

    The story of Pearl Harbour is an inspiration to all, how those massive ships were repaired and back on duty in such a short time is testament to the strength of purpose of the US in protecting her people and the world from such attacks.

    I could feel the hallowedness of the place.

    1. We visited several times while stationed at Kaneohe. Every time someone came to visit, a trip to the USS Arizona Memorial was a requirement. NEVER got over the feelings of awe, and loss.

      An aunt of mine – great-aunt, I guess – ran a boarding house in Honolulu, her boarders were young Sailors. Wish I knew more of that story.

    2. I was there in September, late September, 1991. We couldn’t visit and set foot on the Arizona memorial site as it was closed for repair and painting in preparation for the 50th anniversary commemoration in December that year.

      It doesn’t seem like 20 years ago that I was there.

      1. Doesn’t seem like ten years ago I was there for the first time…11? Don’t remember if we did the tour before Duffy deployed the first time or not…will have to ask Lovely Daughter.

        We arrived on Oahu on 11 Sept 2000 – which I remembered because it was my brother’s birthday, a day seldom remarked on at that time…

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