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MailTribune.com
  • Pearl Harbor survivor's life to be honored today

    Phoenix resident Bob Bangs, 90, died Nov. 11
  • That Bob Bangs will be remembered by family and friends today is only fitting for the last-known Pearl Harbor survivor in the Rogue Valley.
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  • That Bob Bangs will be remembered by family and friends today is only fitting for the last-known Pearl Harbor survivor in the Rogue Valley.
    The wispy thin ranks of Pearl Harbor survivors, spared during the early dawn horror on Dec. 7, 1941, are rapidly diminishing. This morning, several dozen members of Bang's family will gather to say goodbye to one of them as they celebrate his life at Unity Church, 540 N. Holly St., in Medford. The service begins at 10:30 a.m.
    Bangs, a 90-year-old Phoenix resident, passed away nearly a month ago, on another historical date, Nov. 11, Armistice Day, associated with the end of World War I.
    But his wife, Betty, thought it would be more appropriate to schedule a service on Pearl Harbor Day to honor the veteran of World War II and Korea.
    "Everyone had a busy schedule in November, and I knew Thanksgiving was coming," Betty Bangs said. "I looked at the calendar and said 'Hey, let's wait another week and have it on Pearl Harbor Day.' . . . Once it was decided, everybody said, 'Oh, that's wonderful.' "
    Given the transient nature of Americans, it's possible another survivor has moved into the Rogue Valley in recent months, but Betty Bangs said she and her husband were unable to locate another during the past few years.
    Bangs was on watch early Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese war planes sank or disabled 18 ships. His ship, the USS Maryland, was damaged, but nothing compared with the ship it was anchored alongside in Battleship Row, the USS Oklahoma.
    The Oklahoma was struck by several bombs and torpedoes and capsized, with the loss of 429 crew members. The attack killed 2,117 American sailors and marines, 218 soldiers and 68 civilians.
    Bangs was among those who went to the aid of the Oklahoma crew.
    "Right after the attack, I was standing on the bottom side of the Oklahoma and looking up," Bangs said in a 2009 Mail Tribune story. A metalsmith, he was sent over to aid sailors trapped in the upside-down hull of the sister ship.
    "Here were these bombers going over. I thought, 'My God! What a place to be with bombers overhead.' "
    Bangs, who tried to help cut holes in the hull of the Oklahoma to rescue trapped sailors, said he did what he could amid the chaos around him.
    "In a situation like that, you are scared, confused," he said. "But you have a job to do so you just go and do it. You do your part. I think that was the way with most of the people on the ship."
    Bob Bangs last returned to Pearl Harbor in 2006, said Betty, his second wife, to whom he was married for 33 years.
    "When they met for the 65th reunion (in 2006), all of them were in their 80s or early 90s," she said. "Many of them were in wheelchairs, pushed by loved ones. My own husband was using a walker by then, and he was one of the youngest."
    She said her husband suppressed many memories of the fateful day for years.
    "I don't know if it was because it was just such a horrendous things, but he just didn't talk about it," Betty Bangs said.
    However, that changed a few years ago when Daniel Owens of Forget Me Not Productions produced a video history.
    "Then he opened up," she said.
    Bangs, who joined the Navy in 1938, became a chief during his eight years in the Navy, then joined the Army to become a commissioned officer, retiring as a major in 1960. During the Korean War in 1951-52, he was awarded a Bronze Star for meritorious service.
    The colors will be presented at today's service by Bang's grandson, Alden Wolfe, a Navy petty officer, third class, and seaman Kelly Everest, Alden's girlfriend.
    "It's appropriate because he was one of the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors," Betty Bangs said. "We're going to remember what he stood for and to celebrate his life."
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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