Jack Holder, a Pearl Harbor survivor who went on become a decorated World War II flyer who flew over 100 missions in the Pacific and European theaters, has died in Arizona. He was 101.
Darlene Tryon, a close friend and the executor of Holder’s estate, said he died at Friday at a hospital in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler. The Pearl Harbor National Memorial also announced the death. Born to a farming family in Gunter, Texas, Holder joined the Navy in 1940 when he was 18.
He was on duty at Ford Island within Oahu’s Pearl Harbor when Japanese aircraft bombed the U.S. naval base on Dec. 7, 1941.
“The first bomb that fell on Pearl Harbor was about 100 yards from me,” Holder said, adding that he “saw guys swimming through burning oil in the water.”
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Holder recalled diving into a ditch to avoid gunfire.
Hunkered down behind a fortress of sandbags, “I wondered if this was the day I would die,” Holder told the Arizona Republic in a 2016 interview. “That morning I watched as Japanese dive bombers devastated Pearl Harbor. I knew that we would no longer sit on the sidelines of the war ravaging Europe.”
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Holder said he spent three harrowing days manning a makeshift machine gun pit, a ditch lined with sandbags, in the aftermath of the attack.
About 2,400 servicemen were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack, which launched the U.S. into World War II. The USS Arizona alone lost 1,177 sailors and Marines, nearly half the death toll.
Holder went on to fight in the Battle of Midway and flew missions over Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands before being transferred to England and flying missions along the French coast and the English Channel.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial said Holder was awarded two distinguished flying cross medals, six air medals, a presidential citation and six commendation medals in his Navy career before being honorably discharged in 1948.
Holder then flew for 25 years as a corporate and commercial pilot, took up golf and moved to an Arizona retirement community. He also became an avid WWII educator and became a regular at Pearl Harbor commemorations and museums and schools, according to Tryon.
In December 2021, a nonprofit company took Holder on an honor flight out of Mesa’s Falcon Field to celebrate his 100th birthday. Asked at the event to tell his secret to a long life, Holder said “good heart exercise and two scotch and sodas every night.”
Tryon said an early April memorial service is planned for Holder in Phoenix and he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near the nation's capital.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have statistics for how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still living.