The research to write stories about the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor inadvertently became a race against time.
With the survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor all about age 90, it was obvious the goal of interviewing all of those from Northwest Indiana could become problematic. The Times already knew John Latko, of Hammond, was recuperating from surgery that had left him unable to participate in an interview prior to the Sept. 11 stories about the 10th anniversary of that attack, but he wasn't the only one.
When we first contacted the Indiana Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, it sent a list of all survivors in the state as of January. A second list provided by the chapter president listed just the local survivors. Between the two lists, six former military members and one child survivor were listed from Porter and Lake counties.
One of the first contacted was Merle Berdine, of Valparaiso, at the end of October. He had just gotten home from the hospital and asked if we could do the interview when he felt a little better. His daughter answered a second call to his home a week later. She said the paramedics had just left, and Mr. Berdine had died.
A call to Bernard Tysen's DeMotte home about the same time revealed he had died about two weeks earlier. Rock E. Flynn, of Dyer, was on the survivors association list, but after further inquiry the association revealed he had died in April. Joseph Gawor, of Crown Point, was on the list, although he had died six years ago.
Ray Crane, of Crown Point, agreed to a phone interview but said he was going into the hospital the following Monday for surgery, so The Times couldn't set up a photo shoot. The only person to agree to an in-person interview was child-survivor Wendy Minniear Masters, of Valparaiso.
Instead of personal interviews, the stories ended up relying on written memoirs in all but Crane's case. Masters' story was a combination of her memories as a 3-year-old and her mother's memories. Berdine's family also offered his written history.