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Last Pearl Harbor survivor still living in Hawaii, Sterling Cale, passes away at 102

By Rick Quan

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — One of the last Pearl Harbor survivors, Sterling Cale has died. He was 102 years old. Cale was hospitalized in January and passed on Jan. 20, surrounded by family members at his home in Aiea.

A longtime Hawaii resident, Cale was not just a veteran of World War II, but the Korean and Vietnam War. But he may be best remembered for his bravery and courage on Dec. 7 1941, when he commandeered a small boat and jumped into the burning waters of Pearl Harbor.

“He saw that what he had to do was swim underwater and try to save as many as he could. So you can imagine he knows that if he comes up, that fire is going to destroy him. So he’s down there searching for these guys down the bottom and everything and skin is coming up and everything else and he getting these guys and swimming back underwater and putting them right in that captain’s gig and he got about 46 people,” said Cale’s son, who is also named Sterling.

Cale’s son says his dad suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and for many years would not talk about what happened that day.

“I even tried to hide recording devices in the old days and everything, but he would not say a word. Until one day on the Battleship Missouri talking to his grandsons and talking about the signing and everything else with the Japanese, that the people heard him and came from all over the ship. And then he started when they said, ‘Were you there?’ He opened up,” his son recalled.

After 57 years of government service, Cale retired in 2005 and became a volunteer at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

“He wanted people to remember Dec. 7, 1941, so we wouldn’t make that mistake again. And he was really adamant about that. In fact, the Park Service and everything had him hooked up all over the world. He used to talk to teachers and students right in their classrooms. And they could ask him questions about the war and he was, you know, loving to give them all of those things personally, and it was a real joy for him,” he said.

Services for Cale will be held Mar. 7 at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe Bay, where he’ll be buried next to his wife Victoria, a local girl he was married to for 77 years.

You can learn more about Cale’s amazing life in his book “A True American.” From his home in Aiea, you can see where Battleship Row was at Pearl Harbor. For Cale, it was a daily reminder of the lives lost and those he saved on that fateful day.

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