Pearl Harbor Day, On December 7th, 2023, 103-year-old Isaac Schab made a pilgrimage to the site of the infamous attack.
He stood at the water’s edge, gazing across the serene harbor, memories of that fateful day still vivid after decades.
Schab, a Navy musician aboard the USS Dobbin, witnessed the chaos and destruction firsthand as bombs rained down on the unsuspecting fleet. The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941, forever altered the course of history and etched itself into the memory of this survivor.
Returning to Pearl Harbor was more than just a personal journey. It was a mission to honor the 2,403 American lives lost that day. Schab joined other survivors and their families in a solemn ceremony, remembering their fallen comrades as their names were read aloud. The silence was broken only by the gentle waves lapping against the harbor walls, a poignant reminder of the tragedy.
There were about 87,000 military personnel on Oahu at the time of the attack, according to a rough estimate compiled by military historian J. Michael Wenger.
Schab never spoke much about Pearl Harbor until about a decade ago. He’s since been sharing his story with his family, student groups and history buffs. And he’s returned to Pearl Harbor several times since.
The reason? “To pay honor to the guys that didn’t make it,” he said.
Schab’s unwavering commitment to keeping the memory of his fallen brethren alive is a testament to the true meaning of camaraderie. “I owe them,” he says, “for their sacrifice, for their lives.”
At 103, traveling to Pearl Harbor was not without challenges. But Schab’s determination to honor his comrades fueled his spirit. His arrival was met with thunderous applause and heartfelt embraces, a testament to the profound impact he has had.
Standing amongst his fellow survivors, a sense of shared history resonated in the air. These men were the last living witnesses to a day that changed the world, their presence a vital link between the past and present.
As the ceremony concluded with the haunting notes of Taps, a final farewell echoed across the harbor. The setting sun cast long shadows over the water as Schab stood resolute, his gaze fixed on the shimmering surface. His journey was a bittersweet mix of sadness and solemnity, but ultimately a celebration of life, courage, and the enduring bonds forged in war.
For Schab and his fellow survivors, Pearl Harbor is not just a place, but a living memory. It serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, the fragility of life, and the importance of honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Their stories, passed down through generations, will ensure that the sacrifices of Pearl Harbor are never forgotten.
A tuba player in the Navy, Schab stayed close with his bandmates long after the war. For decades, they organized annual reunions, said his daughter Kimberlee Heinrichs.
Schab has slowed down in recent years. But he still gets together each week for cocktails over Zoom with younger members of his fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi. He drinks cranberry-raspberry juice.
These days, he’s happiest listening to big band jazz and audiobooks and going out to meet new people, Heinrichs said.
At his age, he’s thankful to still be able to return to Pearl Harbor. Heinrichs is going with him, along with caregivers. The family has a GoFundMe account to help them raise money for the pilgrimage.
“Just grateful that I’m still here,” Schab said. “That’s really how it feels. Grateful.”
This December 7th, let us remember the attack on Pearl Harbor, its impact on WWII, and the brave men and women who lost their lives that day.
Their sacrifice will forever be remembered.