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On Dec. 7, he was 'one of the lucky ones'

Archie Gregory is the only scheduled Pearl Harbor survivor to be in this year's Fourth of July Parade. The 97-year-old former Navy sailor stresses that he's never been a hero.

June 27, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Archie Gregory, 97, was on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He served in the Navy for the rest of the war on a maintenance ship called the USS Vestal.
Archie Gregory, 97, was on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Archie Gregory has spent four decades visiting schools, riding in parades and speaking at functions to deliver one basic message: that he is not a hero. Not now, not ever.

In his mind, he wasn't a hero when the bombs first struck at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Gregory, a sailor in the Navy who was serving on a repair ship, had stepped onto another vessel to visit an old school friend the moment the explosions began.

The force threw him into the water and gave him a concussion that left a permanent scar. But he doesn't attribute his survival to heroism, just luck.

The next several days, he maneuvered a small boat around the harbor to rescue survivors and fish out bodies. He then served in the Pacific campaign for the rest of the war and was a chief boatswain's mate at the time of his discharge.

But he doesn't call all that heroism, just doing his job.

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Doing their jobs. That's the mantra Gregory and his fellow survivors have repeated over the years, no matter how many times they're feted, no matter how many wide-eyed kids ask them questions.

"Everybody aboard that ship is your brother, and if you don't do your job, you may be causing his death," said Gregory, the only Pearl Harbor survivor currently scheduled to ride in Huntington Beach's Fourth of July Parade. "To go out there and try to be a hero, that's not what we're about."

Gregory, who lives with his stepdaughter in Huntington, has ridden in the city's holiday parades since the 1970s. In years past, he joined fellow survivors on a float with an ornate banner. Next week, though, his appearance will be downsized somewhat — he'll ride in his stepson's Corvette, possibly without fellow veterans at his side.

The 97-year-old is part of a diminishing link to America's past, and his group's reduced role in the Huntington parade spells out the decline: Pearl Harbor Survivors of Orange County, California passed on a float this year because, with several members having died since last July, it couldn't muster enough funds for one.

So when Stacey Newton, the assistant director of Huntington Beach's Independence Day festivities, found that the parade could include at least one survivor, she was overjoyed.

"What we were told was, they weren't going to participate because there weren't enough of them," she said. "So that's why we were excited when Archie's [step]daughter called and said he'd like to participate."

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'Educated guesses'

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