Some of Kentucky's Pearl Harbor survivors plan to meet Friday

jwarren@herald-leader.comDecember 6, 2012 

James Woodrow Cotton, 97, received his awards for his World War II service from Robert Yerks, a retired three-star general.

  • If you go

    Pearl Harbor Commemorative Association's annual Pearl Harbor Day luncheon

    When: Noon Friday

    Where: The Oleika Shrine Temple, 326 Southland Dr.

    Cost: The buffet luncheon is $10 and is by reservation only. To make a reservation, call Doyle Rambo at (859) 536-6925.

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Traveling isn't easy when you're in your 90s, but some survivors of Pearl Harbor say they will gather in Lexington once more on Friday to mark the 71st anniversary of the attack that drew America into World War II.

Vaughn Drake of Lexington and Jon Toy of Mount Sterling, both 94, said they'll attend the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Association's annual Pearl Harbor Day luncheon Friday, and they expect that fellow survivor Herman Horn, 92, of Frankfort will be there too.

Friday's luncheon will include ceremonies to honor Pearl Harbor survivors and others who served during World War II.

The keynote speaker will be historian Thomas R. Emerson, a former assistant Kentucky attorney general.

Gov. Steve Beshear has issued a proclamation designating Dec. 7, 2012, as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day in Kentucky.

The commemorative buffet luncheon in Lexington will be held at noon Friday at the Oleika Shrine Temple, 326 Southland Drive.

Drake, Horn and Toy were young men when Japanese planes swooped down over Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, on the fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Now, they are among a dwindling few witnesses of that history-making moment who are alive to tell younger generations about it.

Drake said he apparently is the last Pearl Harbor survivor living in Lexington.

Toy, who heads the Kentucky Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said there are only 10 survivors on the chapter's membership list. There were 15 a year ago.

"There are a few others still out there that we don't know about because they never joined the chapter," Toy said. "But a lot of us have gone. We're becoming part of history."

Toy said the chapter once had more than 150 members. Chapter members continue to meet each year in the spring and fall, but it's becoming more and more difficult for them to travel, he said.

The national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association disbanded on Dec. 31, 2011, after the 70th Pearl Harbor anniversary observance. Association officials said members simply were too old and too few to continue. Local chapters, such as the one in Kentucky, are free to carry on as long as they have members, but without the support of a national organization.

Eventually, Toy said, it will be up to the sons and daughters of survivors to carry on.

Vaughn Drake was a U.S. Army engineer at a camp on Oahu when the Japanese attacked 71 years ago Friday. One enemy plane, hit by gunfire, crashed near where Drake was standing, and he later recovered a small piece of the wreckage, which he still has.

"We couldn't believe it, even though it was happening right in front of our eyes," Drake said in a 1991 interview.

Horn and some other soldiers jumped into a truck that morning and headed for a distant anti-aircraft battery, planning to use its gun against the attacking planes. On the way, they had to stop repeatedly and take cover when Japanese fighters strafed them.

"We didn't fire one shot. ... We were very, very lucky," Horn said in an interview a few years ago.

Almost 7 decades after war, veteran finally gets his due

It took almost 70 years, but James Woodrow Cotton finally has the medals he earned in World War II.

Cotton, 97, was presented with his medals recently during a ceremony at Morning Pointe, a senior living facility in Richmond where he is a resident.

Cotton, known as "Woody," spent four years with the U.S. Army in the Pacific during World War II, serving in the Western Pacific, the Ryukyu Islands and the Eastern Mandates, which also were known as the Marshall Islands.

He was presented several medals, including the Honorable Service World War II Lapel Button; American Defense Service Medal; Army Good Conduct Service Medal; World War II Victory Medal; and the Certificate of Recognition for Military Service from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Robert Yerks, a retired three-star general, presented the medals to Cotton, who said he was "so proud" to receive them.

"We are all so proud and happy for him," Cotton's daughter Nancy said. "He deserves to be recognized for his dedication and service to his country."

Nancy Cotton worked to secure the medals, which her father should have received when he left the service.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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