PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Frank Emond, a Rhode Island native who was one of the last living survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor, has died. He was 104.
Emond’s death was announced online by the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which is part of the U.S. National Parks Service.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Emond was standing with his fellow members of the Navy band on the deck of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, waiting to play the morning colors, when the attack began.
“It was a beautiful morning,” Emond recalled in an oral history interview posted in 2018 by the American Veterans Center, a nonprofit. “But at five minutes to eight, we saw a line of planes come in over the left. The first one, he peeled off and dropped something — I thought maybe some of the tail had come off or something.”
But it was a torpedo, and it soon blew up an air station nearby.
“It startled us,” Emond said. “We looked back up and saw the big red sparks on the fusillades of the airplanes. Immediately it dawned on us that the Japanese were there.”
Trained as a stretcher-bearer, Emond became part of the rescue operation treating the injured and collecting the remains of the dead.
“When I get going on Pearl Harbor and talking about the dead people, I start stammering,” Emond said in the oral history. “You just can’t help but feel it, even though it was a long time ago.”
The surprise attack killed 2,403 American servicemen and wounded 1,178 more, while causing massive damage to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress declared war on Japan, bringing America into World War II. (A declaration of war against Nazi Germany followed within days.)
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Emond was born and raised in Pawtucket. He played French horn in high school, then left Rhode Island in 1938 to join the Navy, which also made use of his musical talents.
He remained in the Navy for a quarter-century after Pearl Harbor, retiring in 1968 after serving as dean of the Navy School of Music, then spent a decade working as a civilian at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, according to online biographies. He lived in Northwest Florida until his death.
“Although Frank was quiet and humble, he was a tremendously strong man who loved music,” wrote Don Snowden, director of the Pensacola Civic Band, in a Facebook post on Tuesday. He noted that Emond set a Guinness World Record last year as the World’s Oldest Conductor.
The federal government doesn’t keep records for the number of Pearl Harbor survivors who are still living 81 years after the attack, but just six were able to attend last month’s annual remembrance ceremony in Hawaii.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook