Daniel “D.J.” Crainer was at his high school in Alvin when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came across the public address system. He remembers watching classmates cry.
“It was a surprise,” Crainer said. “In everyday life, I didn’t realize what it would mean. I knew it had great significance, but I didn’t know it would affect my life the way it did.”
Crainer, who’s a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Galveston, was drafted into the U.S. Army Transportation Corps and served for three years, loading and unloading supplies during World War II. The United States entered the war following the Japanese attack 74 years ago on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We were all waiting to go as teenagers, waiting for them to call our number,” Crainer said. “My service was routine — I didn’t hit any beaches or have any heroic stories.”
The 91-year-old island resident is part of a dwindling population of World War II veterans. About 16 million Americans served in the war, and about 855,000 are still living, according to a report by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly 500 die per day, according to the report. In Texas, less than 53,000 veterans are living.
“We’re going to lose a lot of firsthand reports of history,” said Dean Growcock, commander of the Galveston post. The post has two veterans of the war among its members, he said.
As a member of the U.S. Navy, Growcock spent time in Hawaii and explored Pearl Harbor in 1980, four decades after it was bombed. He remembers seeing the sheen of oil from the sunken USS Arizona, a remaining sign of the attack.
The ship is still leaks an estimated 2 quarts to 9 quarts of oil each day, according to the National Park Service. During the attack, 1,177 crew members were killed, making it the greatest loss of life on any U.S. warship in history, according to the park service.
Although he was disappointed at the time, it was by chance Crainer wasn’t sent to the Pacific Theater. He was supposed to serve in India, but a mistake sent him to Alaska, which was a territory at the time, for one year.
About three months after concluding his service, Crainer married his wife of almost 70 years. He worked as a longshoreman for more than 40 years and now visits the post for meetings, beers and hamburgers on Tuesdays.
“There’s not that many of us around who remember the attack firsthand,” Crainer said. “I hate to say this, but it doesn’t seem to hold as much significance for the young people.”