Leroy Kohntopp carried the weight of the word “hero” on a farmer’s strong shoulders for nearly 70 years. The Filer resident was a 24-year-old sailor on the USS Maryland when Japanese torpedoes capsized the nearby USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
He was local president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association until the area chapter dissolved in 2005, and flew the U.S. flag in front of his Filer retirement home until April 8, when he died at age 93.
That flag has flown at half-mast since, but Robert Kohntopp said his family will raise it back to the top today, just as his father did across the years he watched five children, 13 surviving grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren grow.
Leroy Kohntopp will forever be counted among the 60,000 military personnel stationed in Pearl Harbor during the attack that signaled the United States’ entry into World War II. But to his family, he was much more than a hero.
“He was one who loved his fellow man and would serve them,” Robert Kohntopp said of his father.
Leroy Kohntopp didn’t talk much about the attack, his son said, other than to mention a recurring nightmare about being trapped in the bottom of the USS Maryland. But his character spoke through his service, be it through the survivors association, his seven years as a bishop with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or bringing a neighbor goods from his farm.
“He was a very hardworking man who loved his family,” Robert Kohntopp said. “He was a very service-oriented person. He would do things spontaneously for other people.”
Today, he represents another loss among the dwindling fraternity of Pearl Harbor survivors. Their numbers diminished to an estimated 3,000 across the U.S. last year, and continue to decrease as even the youngest survivors of the attacks reach their 90s.
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association has gone through multiple changes in leadership over the past couple of years. On Thursday, Arthur Herriford was too ill to speak on the phone about the group he led in 2010. In the Magic Valley, the chapter Leroy Kohntopp led had dwindled to just 16 members before it was dissolved in 2005.
“When they came together, they wanted to come together again not to rehash things, but to just have pure fellowship as American citizens,” Leroy Kohntopp said of the association in a 2010 interview.
The Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, established in 1973 to keep the memory of the attack alive, hopes to carry the banner when the survivors group no longer can. And informally, the families of survivors like Leroy Kohntopp will continue to share their memories with their younger generations.
Leroy Kohntopp’s grandchildren are all old enough to remember him, his son said, so now it’s up to them to share those memories with their children.
“I think they’d teach them the same values that I’d mentioned about dad,” Robert Kohntopp said. “That he’s someone you’d look up to based on his values and how he’d treated other people, and his kindness toward people. I think that’s his legacy.”
Eric Larsen may be reached at email@example.com or 735-3246.