The three men wearing matching Hawaiian shirts and military-style caps sit at a table, looking like typical retirees about to sip their morning coffee at McDonald’s. But the line of people waiting to meet them is long. Visitors are excited to meet these octogenarians.
The men are members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a select group of veterans who were on duty in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese naval air forces attacked Pearl Harbor, as well as other Navy and Army Air Force facilities on the island of Oahu. Some 3,000 members of the organization are still living, but only 10 reside on Oahu.
One of them is Robert “Bob” Kinzler, an Army veteran who served with Headquarters Company, 27th Infantry at Schofield Barracks on the day of the attack. He’s the dean of this group, having worked with the National Park Service’s Volunteers-In-Parks program since 1985. He has the most seniority of the Pearl Harbor survivors who greet visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial.
Some visitors bring books about the attack for the veterans to sign; others are pleased to receive a personalized, autographed information sheet on each one. The vets are careful to ask each person’s name, how to spell it, and where they’re from. Most have a quick story or two to add about a visitor’s hometown.
Kinzler was a Morse code operator at Schofield in Central Oahu, well known as the setting for 1953’s “From Here To Eternity,” starring Frank Sinatra and Burt Lancaster. The infantry post escaped major damage, but neighboring Wheeler Army Airfield was hit.
Kinzler joined the Army Reserve after the war, and retired in 1962 as a captain. By that time, he was an executive at a major sugar-refinery plant on Oahu.
At 89, Kinzler could be taking it easy. But most weekday mornings, he sits inside the entrance to the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, greeting people, exchanging a quip or two, shaking hands and hearing quick stories about the World War II service of someone’s family member.
Kinzler takes it all in stride with a quiet smile, a word or two and a handshake. As the line shrinks, he turns to me and says, “I have no intention of quitting!”