By AUDREY McAVOY
PEARL HARBOR — Herb Weatherwax cruises the open-air grounds of the visitors center at Pearl Harbor on a motorized scooter dubbed “Herb’s Hot Rod.” When a woman notices his blue and white cap embroidered with the words “Pearl Harbor Survivor,” he coaxes her to him.
“Come get a picture,” Weatherwax said.
Her family surrounds his scooter to pose for a snapshot and shake his hand.
The 96-year-old charms visitors in a similar fashion each of the three days a week he volunteers at a memorial for the USS Arizona, a battleship that sank in the 1941 Japanese attack. The retired electrician is one of four former servicemen who lived through the aerial bombing and now greet people at the historic site.
People enjoy hearing stories directly from the survivors, Weatherwax said. And he enjoys meeting people from around the globe — just the other day he met visitors from New Zealand, China and Texas. He joked he wants his photograph “in every home in the world.”
“This is my reason to continue to keep going,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s time for me to say goodbye.”
Weatherwax was a 24-year-old Army private living in Honolulu when he heard loud explosions the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. He saw the sky fill with black smoke and heard anti-aircraft guns firing. When he turned on the radio, he learned Japan was bombing Oahu and all military personnel were to immediately report to their stations.
He saw the USS Arizona enveloped in flames and the USS Oklahoma turned on its side as he headed to his post. Twenty-one ships were sunk or heavily damaged that day while 320 aircraft were damaged or destroyed. Some 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed.
Pam Johnson, a sixth-grade teacher in a rural community outside Honolulu, said meeting Weatherwax transformed her students. After meeting Weatherwax, several students suddenly told her they wanted to look up Pearl Harbor. Weatherwax ignited in them a desire to learn, she said.
“That’s a huge connection,” Johnson said. Her students wouldn’t have developed this interest just by walking through the exhibition halls at the visitors’ center or even the memorial for the Arizona, Johnson said.