A sentinel to the memories of those lost at Pearl Harbor

George Hursey at his home in Brockton in 2018.
George Hursey at his home in Brockton in 2018.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

On Dec. 7, 1941, George Hursey was an Army corporal awaiting the end of his shift when planes passed close above where he was stationed at Fort Shafter in Honolulu.

He could see they weren’t US aircraft. As the bombing of Pearl Harbor began, Mr. Hursey raced to get anti-aircraft guns in place at a nearby battle post.

“We just saw everything being destroyed in front of us,” he told the Globe in 2011.

Mr. Hursey, one of the last living Massachusetts veterans who survived Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, was 98 when he died Tuesday. A Southerner by birth, he had spent his post-war life in Brockton, his wife’s hometown.


Later in World War II, he was injured at Guadalcanal, a battle so unsettling he rarely discussed that time in the Pacific theater.

Because of Pearl Harbor’s historic significance, Mr. Hursey was often asked to recount those events, and he did so in newspaper interviews, for community access TV, and in visits to Brockton’s schools.

“All hell was breaking loose,” he recalled of the bombing last December, when he spoke to the Globe just before the 77th anniversary of the attack.

He added that he planned to spend that year’s day of remembrance at home “saying prayers for the poor guys who didn’t make it. That’s all I can do.”

In a Veterans History Project interview that aired on Brockton Community Access TV, Mr. Hursey spoke about the US troops — on ships at Pearl Harbor that were hit by bombs — who raced from their bunks to fire at the planes overhead, knowing they probably would be killed in the fight.

“There are no braver men in the world than Americans,” Mr. Hursey said.

While records about surviving US veterans of the Pearl Harbor attacks are not comprehensive, a historian with the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors organization said there might be at least a couple of others in Massachusetts.


One of them is Emery Arsenault, 98, of Peabody. He and Mr. Hursey met once at a Pearl Harbor remembrance event at the Charlestown Navy Yard, according to Arsenault’s daughter Anne Mullen of Peabody.

Arsenault was finishing his overnight beach radar patrol duty the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack.

“It was the end of a shift and we were getting ready to go to church,” he said last year for a North Shore Elder Services blog. “We were waiting for a truck to transport us to Pearl Harbor, where we would take a ferry to church. Well, that never happened.”

As the battle unfolded, Mr. Hursey witnessed the carnage up close.

“We were on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor and you could see everything,” he told the Globe last year. “One of the battleships blew up in our faces.”

Wartime experiences left him grateful for life’s gifts in the decades that followed, and his time in the Army instilled a sense of purpose.

“He was what every young man should aspire to be,” said his son, Dennis of Brockton.

“He was a dedicated husband. He was a dedicated father and a dedicated grandfather,” Dennis added. “He was not only those things. He was a good citizen, a good human being.”

In the 2011 interview, Mr. Hursey said simply: “I don’t want to think about anything bad. I want to think about the happier times.”


The fifth of 10 siblings, George Hursey was born on Oct. 14, 1921, and grew up in Durham, N.C., living in a log cabin as a child and pitching in to help run the family’s farm.

His parents were Sylvester and Bessy Hursey. Along with working on the farm, where the family raised much of their food, Sylvester was a heavy machinery operator in construction during the Great Depression.

Strong and slim, Mr. Hursey was the captain of his high school’s football, basketball, and baseball teams as a senior, his son said.

Though Mr. Hursey wanted to play college sports, “nobody took a chance on him because of his size,” Dennis said. “He was only 150 pounds.”

After high school, with college beyond reach financially and almost no jobs available near the end of the Depression, Mr. Hursey enlisted.

“I joined the Army to escape poverty,” he told the Globe in 2010, adding in another interview: “The food was good, the pay was good. I was made a first sergeant.”

Mr. Hursey opted for Hawaii as a place to be stationed.

“He said it was a bachelor’s paradise over there until the war broke out,” Dennis said. “He said all they did was play sports, play sports, play sports.”

And then came Dec. 7.

Mr. Hursey was in the artillery. One of his younger brothers, who was in the infantry, was also stationed there that day. “They didn’t know if the other one had survived or not until two days later,” Dennis said. “My grandmother Bessy, she didn’t know until five days later that they both survived.”


Wondering if his brother was alive gave Mr. Hursey something to think about other than his own well-being.

“I was lucky to have somebody to worry about,” he said in the community access TV interview. “If you have somebody else to worry about, you don’t worry about yourself.”

After Mr. Hursey was injured by shrapnel in the Guadalcanal battle, he was sent back to the United States. He said he was assigned to train artillery troops at Camp Edwards, on Cape Cod.

While on leave, he met Mary Gulla at a restaurant in Brockton. They married in January 1946. “My mother and him were inseparable,” Dennis said. “They just did everything together.”

Mr. Hursey initially worked in maintenance at a Brockton shoe factory, then was with the US Postal Service for many years, retiring at 58. He subsequently drove a school bus until he was 83.

Over the years, Mr. Hursey was also a scout for Duke University’s sports teams, and he began speaking to various groups about his Pearl Harbor experiences.

“I was a high school teacher all my life,” his son said. “I brought him to school to talk about the war.”

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Hursey leaves his daughter, Maria of Brockton, and a grandson, Joseph Tarr, who is a Massachusetts National Guard officer.


Family and friends will gather at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Russell & Pica Funeral Home in Brockton, where a memorial service will be held at noon. A private burial will be held in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.

“I was lucky,” Mr. Hursey said in 2011 of his life after the war.

“I wanted to be happy,” he added. “I was home and safe. I didn’t see any dead bodies. I married good. It was a good life.”

And he set an example for others to follow.

“He was a man of good morals and good ethics, and a man of good integrity,” his son said. “He wasn’t just my father. He was my friend.”

Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.