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Pearl survivors group fights age and paperwork

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    The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will vote next week on whether to disband. Survivors Donald Armstrong, left, and Louis Conter chatted yesterday at the Arizona Memorial docks. Visit for more pictures.
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Every year that Pearl Harbor survivors come out to Hawaii for another Dec. 7, 1941, commemoration, many think it will be their last hurrah.

For some that’s the case. For all of the aging members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, now in their upper 80s and low 90s, this might be their last official hurrah.

The survivors association, founded in 1958 and chartered by Congress in 1985, will decide in Honolulu next week during its convention whether to call the organization quits — at least from a formal standpoint, officials said.

It is well known that old age and infirmity have caught up to the greatest generation, but so has something else: bookkeeping.

"We are incorporated in the state of Missouri, and incorporation places certain burdens on that corporation to perform," said William Muehleib, 88, who survived the attack at Hickam Field and is now national vice president of the association.

The association also is tax-exempt and a Veterans Affairs service organization.

It all adds up to a lot of paperwork that a dwindling number of advanced-age survivors have to prepare.

"When you have chaps who are in their 90s that have other things to do besides fooling with reports, it’s difficult to get the data you need to provide the information that’s required," Muehleib said.

The survivors association, which has fewer than 3,000 members worldwide, will put to members at the convention in Hawaii the question of whether to disband, officials said.

The vote is expected on Monday, the day before the 69th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack that galvanized the group in the first place.

The decision could spell an end to a dwindling number of state chapters nationwide that are run with increasing disorder by, in some cases, a few remaining members.

"The one thing we don’t want is for anyone — our members or anyone else that has an association with the Pearl Harbor survivors — to feel that we do not value the association, the social association, that our members have with one another," said Muehleib, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va.

He added that there is no intention to dismantle the structure whereby chapters meet monthly for lunch or dinner or otherwise get together.

The National Park Service is expecting a huge survivor turnout — more than 200 — for Tuesday’s 69th-anniversary commemoration.

Survivors and family members are expected to total about 1,000 individuals. The big draw is the dedication of the Arizona Memorial’s new $56 million Visitor Center and museum — where the Dec. 7, 1941, story is being told in more detail than ever before.

The survivors association moved up its big convention in Hawaii, normally held every five years, by a year to coincide with the new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center dedication.

Muehleib is coming out with 11 family members.

"A great number of children and grandchildren have a sincere interest in their older folks’ past history," the Army Air Corps veteran said.

The big turnout stands in contrast to last year’s survivor participation, about 40, and to the state of the association chapters nationwide.

When the survivors association first organized, about 80,000 were eligible, said President Arthur Herriford. There were about 20,000 members in the 1960s, he said.

Everett Hyland, 87, who was wounded on the USS Pennsylvania on Dec. 7, 1941, said the association has about 30 members in Hawaii. Only two, he and Ray Emory, were on ships, he said.

Eight to 10 members show up for meetings every third Thursday.

"It’s ridiculous to have a formal meeting," the Makiki resident said. "If you want to have a social get-together or something, (that’s fine)."

One possibility the survivors association is looking at is having Pacific Historic Parks, which supports and funds four national parks in the Pacific, the Arizona Memorial included, become the "glue that is going to hold us together and let us know what’s going on in California with our veterans there, what’s going on in Florida with our veterans there, what’s going on in New York and so forth," Muehleib said.

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