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.