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Last known Pearl Harbor survivor in Mass. dies at 98

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 11/10/2019 Max Reyes
a man wearing a hat: George Hursey in December 2018. © Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff, file 2018 George Hursey in December 2018.

Massachusetts’ last known survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II died Tuesday at 98.

George Hursey died following a “period of failing health,” according to an online obituary. His family could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Hursey, who spoke about his historic experiences many times over the years, previously told the Globe he thought he had come to the “safest place in the world” when he arrived in Hawaii in 1939 as a member of the US Army.

That was before the early morning attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

“We were on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor and you could see everything,” Hursey told the Globe last year. “One of the battleships blew up in our faces.”

As his unit prepared to go into battle position, the reality of what was happening sunk in. “All hell was breaking loose,” he said.

Hursey credited Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, who commanded Army forces in the Pacific at the time of the attack, for preparing him and his fellow servicemen for battle.

“He made soldiers out of us,” Hursey told the Globe in 2014. “Before that, we were all playboys.”

During the onslaught, 350 Japanese aircraft descended on Pearl Harbor and nearby military installations in two waves, according to the US Navy. More than 2,400 Americans were killed, and 21 ships were sunk or damaged.

Hursey said he learned of the attack from a lieutenant who shouted, “Hey! This is for real!”

His brother, James, was stationed at Fort Shafter, east of Pearl Harbor, and also survived the battle.

“We did what we trained for,” Hursey told the Globe in 2016. “It’s years and years and years ago. My God, 75 years.”

Hursey fought elsewhere in the Pacific Theater, including New Guinea and Guadalcanal, where he was injured. He was stationed in 1944 at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, where he met his future wife, Mary Gulla, according to the obituary.

Hursey was discharged from the Army in 1945, after reaching the rank of First Sergeant. He married Gulla in 1946, and the two built their life together in Brockton, according to the obituary.

Hursey was born in North Carolina on Oct. 14, 1921, and was the last of 10 siblings, the obituary said.

He will be cremated Thursday and honored in a memorial service at the Russell & Pica Funeral Home in Brockton before he is interred in the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, according to the obituary.

Hursey is the second Massachusetts Pearl Harbor survivor to die this fall. William Kostanski of Greenfield died in September at 101, according to the Associated Press.

Hursey and Kostanski were among a group that grows smaller each year. Lou Large, a former president of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, told the Globe that he knew of only 400 survivors as of 2016, the 75th anniversary of the attack.

Max Reyes can be reached at max.reyes@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MaxJReyes.

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