One by one, the sailors of the Navy honor guard marched down the aisle of the packed funeral home, each stopping to salute Richard “Dick” Hansing.
Hansing was a sailor of a rare sort.
He was one of the veterans who experienced the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The 90-year-old sailor was laid to rest Friday in Twin Falls Cemetery, taking with him memories of a historic event more often relayed by history books than by eyewitnesses.
With the passage of time, the ranks of Pearl Harbor attack survivors are rapidly thinning. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, they are a dying breed of old, hardy veterans who still carry memories of Pearl Harbor nearly 70 years later.
They were the first to serve in World War II, enlisting before the U.S. entered the war following the attack. Hansing enlisted in 1939 at the age of 19.
Many survivors of the attack went on to serve through the duration of WWII. And some, like Hansing, answered the call once again and served in the Korean War.
“The good Lord was looking after me,” Hansing said in a 2001 interview with the Times-News.
As a 21-year-old Navy machinist’s mate second class on the USS Nevada, Hansing had finished working the night shift in the ship’s engine room when the attack began.
“I had just taken my dungarees off and put on my shorts, white socks and white undershirt when the call to general quarters went out,” Hansing said in a 2007 Times-News interview.
Of the nearly 1,500 crew members aboard the battleship, 50 were killed in the attack, during which the Nevada took eight direct bomb hits and a torpedo hit before running aground in a channel.
His younger brother, Dave Hansing, was 11 at the time, and remembers his family waiting three or four days before hearing word that the sailor survived.
Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of war for Richard Hansing. He was transferred to the USS Northampton, which was sunk in 1942. Later, he participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944. During the Korean War, he returned to the Navy and worked on returning aircraft carriers into commission.
After the war, Hansing farmed in the Twin Falls area. But he never forgot Pearl Harbor.
In his later years, he was generous in sharing his wartime experiences and spent money from his Social Security check on gasoline to travel to area schools and talk about the war.
Leroy Kohntopp, former president of the now-disbanded local chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, knows of just three other south-central Idaho servicemen left besides himself who are Pearl Harbor survivors.
The Magic Valley chapter disbanded in 2005, when it had just 16 members left, down from 47 in the mid-1970s.
“When they came together, they wanted to come together again not to rehash things but to just have pure fellowship as American citizens,” Kohntopp said of the association.
He remembers Hansing as a talkative, actively involved member of the chapter who loved telling school classes about his experiences.
Arthur Herriford, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said the end of the Magic Valley chapter reflects a nationwide trend. The association is encouraging chapters to merge with others after becoming too small to continue, though there’s been little success with that, he said.
“We’ve had many of our chapters disband because of the diminishment of survivors,” he said.
In its earlier days, after starting in the 1950s, the association had between 18,000 and 20,000 members — about a quarter of the roughly 82,000 survivors of the attack.
Now, they number about 3,100 nationwide.
“I’m one of the younger ones,” said Herriford, who at 88 is one of the few survivors younger than 90.
Every year the association has members who make the trip to Pearl Harbor for an anniversary of remembrance. They’ll go again this December, but are considering the possibility of not returning again in the future. That decision, Herriford said, will be up to the delegates of the association.
Hansing went in 2006 to Pearl Harbor, knowing it would likely be one of the final gatherings for his generation.
At the cemetery on Friday, a 21-gun salute from members of the Twin Falls Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2136 honored Hansing. An honor guard of sailors in crisp, white uniforms carried his casket to its final resting place. Dog tags dangled from a rifle stuck in the ground next to boots.
The sailor was home.
Ben Botkin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 735-3238.