“Until 1991, I spoke very little about Pearl Harbor,” said Kerr, a great grandfather of three who is 91 years old. “I just didn’t want to talk about it. My older son teased me into it.”
A member of the Army Air Corp. serving as a company clerk at the time, Kerr was in the barrack at Hickam Field on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the day President Roosevelt said would live in infamy.
“I remember another boy and I, another lad — we were kids then, 19 years old — we were getting up to go to a church in Honolulu,” Kerr said. “We were making up our mind, are we going to mess hall to eat or are we going down to the church where the ladies usually had donuts and coffee. We never made that decision. That’s when the bombs started falling.”
Kerr wouldn’t end up eating until 10 p.m. that night.
“The first I noticed that something was wrong is we were having airplanes flying around that were dropping things on us, that they weren’t just practicing and they were strafing us as well,” he said.
He stepped out on the porch to look.
“It had already been hit by a bomb, and the roof was on fire, I recall that,” he said. “I stepped out on the porch and there was a young man who was one of our cooks laying face down, dead.”
Kerr entered his squadron’s headquarters and went to open the safe to retrieve a roster.
“I thought it would be well to make a record of what was happening,” he said. “You have to keep records: Who was there, who was killed and who was wounded, and as I’m squatted down opening a safe, my 1st Sgt. standing in the door said, ‘what are you doing?’ I remember this like it was yesterday. ‘I said, ‘I’m getting a roster.’ He said, ‘that’s a good idea.’ That was his last words. A strafer came by, went through our window, and took him out. What I remember is that we were blasted, and it only lasted about two hours, Japanese came in for about two hours, but they did more damage in two hours than I can imagine.”
Thirteen men in his squadron were killed.
“The mess hall that I almost went to — 35 men were killed, and it was one bomb,” he said.
Kerr was later part of a B-25 outfit of two squadrons stationed in Guam who were ordered to fly to Okinawa and switch out their auxiliary gas tanks for bomb racks loaded with 250-pound incendiary bombs when President Truman ordered the atomic bomb dropped on Japan.
“One of the best decisions Truman made, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Kerr went on to spend a career in the Army, retiring at Fort McPherson in 1963.
There are about 27 survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack left in Georgia, he said.
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association surrendered its charter last December on the 70th anniversary of the attack. The association continues under the organization of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors.
The group that has sponsored the Memorial Day event in the cemetery since 1946 awarded its Medal of Valor to those Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance.
The Rev. Mark Barbour, president of the National Memorial Day Association of Georgia and The Avenue of Flags, Inc., the organization that hosts the Memorial Day event, said more than 1,800 people turned out to pay their respects on Monday.
Kerr called it a beautiful ceremony.
“I enjoyed it very much,” he said.
Brigadier General William F. Duffy, commanding general, military intelligence readiness command, Ft. Belvoir, Va., delivered the Memorial Day address, referencing the Occupy Wall Street movement. Duffy said the movement’s members like to talk about the 99 percent and the 1 percent.
“Now I am just a simple soldier, but I know some 1 percenters,” Duffy said. “The 1 percent that I know are the 1 percent of our citizenry who have served in our military, and I know that 1 percent didn’t sign up for a corporate jet, stock options or a lavish expense account. The 1 percent I know didn’t seek fame and riches. Their success is not measured by the bottom line of a financial statement. The 1 percent I know joined to be part of something special, something much bigger than themselves. The 1 percent I know are volunteers who believe in the dream that is America. They’ve deployed into harm’s way wherever and whenever needed to keep that dream alive. To the 1 percenters of the present, the past and the future, we can’t thank you enough and will never forget your sacrifice.”
Barbour said this past Saturday more than 1,000 Cub, Boy, Brownie and Girl Scouts, their leaders and parents moved across the 23-acre cemetery placing over 1,800 American flags by the tombstones.
“To witness these Scouts placing flags, then standing to attention, then saluting each and every soldier laid to rest here is indeed a deeply moving moment,” Barbour said.
Marietta-based Sacre Voci, a community chamber choir, performed the National Anthem and America the Beautiful, while the 105th Georgia State Defense Force Band performed the crowd-pleasing medley of service branch songs.
A musket salute was delivered by the Elias Moon Camp #2 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the Georgia Army National Guard’s Honor Guard Unit delivered a three-volley salute as well, with Echo Taps performed by Del Delamont and Roger Stitz of Bugles Across America.
The event even saw three fighter jets fly above the crowd from Dobbins Air Reserve, prompting a burst of applause at “the sound of freedom.”
Among those in attendance was Attorney General Sam Olens.
“My father served in the South Pacific in World War II, and I think that it’s vital that we always remember those individuals that gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our liberty,” Olens said. “I think we’re blessed to live in a county that does very much respect the military, respect our veterans and has always been a proud supporter of those men and women that go to battle every day to protect our freedoms.”