Editor’s note: Coeur d’Alene’s Ray Garland, who died last Thursday at 96, was the final living military member of the region’s Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in Spokane, according to Carol Hipperson, a military historian, an associate member of the group and former organizer of the chapter’s annual recognition ceremony in Spokane. However, Post Falls’ Charlie Imus, at 98, is living proof there are still Pearl Harbor survivors among us.
By BRIAN WALKER
POST FALLS — Not a day passes that Charlie Imus isn't thankful to be alive and remembers the sacrifices made on Dec. 7, 1941.
As Memorial Day approaches on May 27, Imus, who will turn 99 on July 8, vividly remembers the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.
"I saw the red (dots) on the airplanes going by," he said at his Post Falls home on Tuesday.
Imus, who was 21 at the time, was walking down stairs from the barracks to a mess hall on Ford Island during the first wave of attacks.
"I was land-based, but was fully aware of all the smoke and noise," said Imus, who estimates he was just over 100 yards from one of the battleships in Pearl Harbor.
The attacks led to the United States' formal entry into World War II the next day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Dec. 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy." A total of 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded.
Imus, who served in the Navy for 20 years, said he believes he's one of the last Pearl Harbor survivors in this area.
"I'd be curious if there are others," he said.
Carol Hipperson, a military historian and author who formerly organized an annual recognition ceremony in Spokane for the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said her best estimate is that there's is that there's only a few survivors per state who are left. She said the Lilac City Chapter stopped meeting regularly three years ago and it was one of the last chapters in the country to do so.
Despite preferring not to drive too far for social events, Imus maintains his driver’s license and remains active.
He plays bingo at the Greyhound Park and Event Center twice a week, attends a weekly fit-and-fall proof exercise class at Calvary Lutheran Church, and goes out for breakfast.
"I'm not as far along as I used to be, that's for sure," Imus said. "But I get up and about. I'm about as good as can be expected. I probably should've been gone 30 years ago, according to the life expectancy tables."
Imus lives on his own but is visited by friend Bobbi Quested.
"I just finished replacing batteries in my smoke detector, but she got up on the ladder rather than myself," he said with a laugh.
When mayhem broke out over Pearl Harbor, Imus said he could see and hear the battleships being bombed from his bunk.
"I didn't get breakfast that day," he said.
Imus was a Seaman 2nd Class assigned to the Navy's VP-23, an aircraft patrol squadron on Ford Island. During the first attack, personnel were ordered to remain in their barracks until there was a lull, Imus said.
He later reported to the hangars and fired a few rounds at a Japanese airplane with a rifle.
"I was one of the first to arrive in the ordnance shop," he said.
Damage to the Navy's grounded planes, Imus said, was devastating.
"All of our planes were destroyed except for one," he said.
In total, 33 of the 70 aircraft on the ground at Ford Island that day were destroyed.
Imus said he never made it back to Pearl Harbor after serving his country.
"At this point in time, the airplane travel would be a little stressful," he said. "And I tire easily."
Imus said he did visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., several years ago. He shook hands with former federal lawmaker and fellow World War II vet Bob Dole, who spent time there greeting veterans.
Imus said that especially as Memorial Day approaches, he often thinks about that day, the men in his air squadron and what could have been.
"You count your blessings when you go through something like that," he said. "The real heroes are the ones who fought and died. It's been a long time now. There's not too many of us left."