Until his last hours, Bill Halleran, a craggy-faced survivor of the devastating Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, worked to keep alive the memory of one of history’s most pivotal moments.
But not long before he was to participate in a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the attack, Halleran, 93, suffered a massive stroke early this week and never recovered, according to Rev. Ann Morgan, pastor of the Merrick United Methodist Church. He died just before noon Friday at Nassau University Medical Center, Morgan said.
Halleran, who was aboard the USS Phoenix on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, had a clear view of the battleship Arizona as it’s sinking swallowed 1,177 crew members. In total, the surprise attack – Japan had not declared war on the United States – killed more than 2,400 Americans, and galvanized American resolve to become the world’s leading power.
“I was with the executive officer when I heard the first explosion,” recalled Halleran, of North Merrick. “I said, ‘Hell, this is the real thing. We’re at war.'”
“All you could see were flames and smoke,” Halleran told Newsday last week.
Halleran said he became so involved in trying to prepare the Phoenix for battle – including manually hauling heavy belts of ammunition from several decks below after the ship lost electrical power – that he had no time to locate his brother, Charlie, a fellow crew member who was stationed near the bow. His brother survived the attack – the two shared a hasty soup lunch later that day – and lived until three years ago.
Halleran became determined that America should never forget the surprise attack, and helped organize a Long Island chapter of a Pearl Harbor survivors organization. He said last week he was one of only three members left.
He had planned to attend a 70th anniversary commemoration at the Airpower Museum in Farmingdale on Wednesday.
But when the ceremony began, his chair was empty.
Halleran, who remained vigorous until his last days, was involved in local Veterans of Foreign War and American Legion activities, and had been a member of the North Merrick Fire Department.
A wake will be held today, from 7-9 p.m. and tomorrow, 2-4 and 7-9, at Walker Funeral Home, in Merrick. His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Merrick United Methodist Church, in Merrick, N.Y., said Morgan, who said he will be buried at Calverton National Cemetery, in Calverton, N.Y.