A Sioux Falls veteran who survived the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor has died.
Konrad O’Hearn was 91 when he died Tuesday, Jan. 28. His memorial service is Saturday morning.
It’s a quiet passing for a man who belonged to an unusual “club.”
In 2011 South Dakota was home to five Pearl Harbor survivors. Darrel Christopherson of Vermillion died the month after the anniversary. Jean Mehegan of Brookings died June 26, 2013, in Brookings. and Stan Lieberman and Steve Warren both apparently still live in Rapid City.
Here’s the story on Konrad O’Hearn that ran on the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor:
Konrad O’Hearn never learned what happened to the seven white hats he was soaking in a bucket before 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941.
He went back to look once that long, awful day had ended.
All seven of the jaunty white hats and the bucket were gone.
He didn’t care. All that mattered was he was alive.
O’Hearn, now 91, was a gunner’s mate on the USS Maryland. He had been stationed in Pearl Harbor for almost a year, and he was enjoying it.
O’Hearn, 19, was 6-foot-3¼. He stood out among his fellow seamen on the Maryland. He was the youngest of Chester and Dorothy O’Hearn’s three sons and the last to enlist in the military.
The morning of Dec. 7, the Maryland was docked between the USS Oklahoma and Ford Island. O’Hearn was tending to mundane chores below deck, next to the compartment set aside for the Maryland’s band. A young band member burst in.
"He started yelling, ‘The Japs are bombing us,’ " O’Hearn said.
"Not too long after that, the chief band master came down and grabbed that kid, and he said, ‘You almost got me killed.’ He was facing the kid so he didn’t know" that Japanese pilots were coming in behind him, prepared to strafe the ship’s deck.
Then, a bugler blasted the call to general quarters, ordering everyone on the Maryland to battle stations. O’Hearn went up to his 5-inch anti-aircraft gun on the boat deck. It took three men to put in ammunition and one to direct the gun upward. O’Hearn’s job was to direct the gun from left to right and back again.
The quartet began aiming their gun at the Japanese planes flying overhead.
"We knew we hit one," O’Hearn said. "We didn’t set the time fuse, and we fired and hit the airplane. It blew up, and there were pieces all over the place. That was all that was left."
Today, O’Hearn doesn’t know how long he stayed behind the gun.
"Time just stood still more or less," he said.
"The first attack was at 7:55, so they said. I don’t know when the second one was, right after. Then the Japanese admiral decided the surprise was over so let’s go home."
As the planes receded, O’Hearn surveyed the devastation around him. .
"The harbor was on fire from the oil that was burning on the surface of the water," O’Hearn said. "Everybody was scared to death. I could see people praying everywhere I looked. They all got religion, me included."
O’Hearn could see the USS Arizona, which lost the greatest number of men of any ship during the attack.
"They said it broke her back, which it did," he said.
Then, the Maryland’s seamen ate a hasty lunch before beginning the clean-up work on their own ship. Later that month it would travel to Puget Sound Naval Yard for repairs.
Back in Sioux Falls, O’Hearn’s parents waited for news of their son. He was allowed to send one postcard home, and he had to decide between sending it to his folks or his fiancee, Beatrice Conklin, whom he had met in seventh grade.
He chose to mail it to his folks and remains puzzled by what happened next.
"They lived six blocks between them, and it was two weeks before she found out," O’Hearn said.
Beatrice had learned of the attack through the newsreels that ran before movies at the theater next to the restaurant where she worked.
DATE OF BIRTH: April 2, 1922, in Sioux Falls
FAMILY: Wife, Beatrice, died March 28, 2006; two daughters, one of whom is deceased; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; four great-great-grandchildren.
AFTER THE NAVY: Discharged Nov. 22, 1946, re-enlisted Dec. 16, 1946, with a second discharge Dec. 21, 1960. He retired in 1984 and moved back to Sioux Falls in 2006.
WHY THE NAVY? "Because I would have my food with me, I had somebody to cook it, and I had a place to sleep. In the Army, you were probably on the ground."