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For survivors, movie hit home

Some Pearl Harbor survivors were invited to a free showing of Pearl Harbor. "It was really tough watching some of those things,'' one said. "It really got to you.''


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001

SPRING HILL -- They are a small band of survivors woven together by a thread of shared memories.

Nearly 60 years later, they can still hear echoes of the bombs that rained from the sky on that first Sunday in December, leaving a heavy haze of acrid smoke.

On Friday, they gathered to remember. And to finally show their wives, after so many years of telling, what it was really like to live through Pearl Harbor.

When the three-hour blockbuster ended, Marian Hartman followed her husband, Bill, out of the darkened cinema into the Beacon Theatres' brightly lit lobby. Wiping her eyes, she handed him the bag he uses to hold a portable oxygen tank.

"I couldn't go through that again," she said through tears. "It was so marvelous. Like the president said, "It was hell.' "

Bill Hartman, 83, of Spring Hill was among 12 members of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Chapter 15, invited to attend a free showing on opening day of the film Pearl Harbor.

Of the dozen veterans, two were in the hospital, and three had gone back to their summer homes up North, leaving seven to watch together and relive a slice of their past.

Don Ewing hadn't read the advance reviews on purpose: "I don't have a whole lot of faith in the movie," he said on the way to his seat in the third row. "If I see something nice, I can be proud of it."

Ewing, 82, of Spring Hill, was 21 when he enlisted in the Army in 1940. He grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., and had been at Pearl Harbor 17 months when the Japanese attacked.

As the lights dimmed in the crowded theater, Ewing fell silent.

Like several members of the group, he stared straight at the screen through even the most violent battle sequences. Folding his arms and clutching his sides with both hands, Ewing looked down only occasionally, and then just long enough to brush the tears from his eyes.

When it was over, he stood next to his wife, Joan, near a table in the lobby where the group had set up a small display of Pearl Harbor memorabilia to share with other moviegoers.

"I thought it was a pretty good show," he said softly. "Except for the profanity. You didn't talk that way to each other. It was put on a lot there."

Ewing, like most of the others, was impressed by the accuracy of the scenes about Pearl Harbor. They laughed at the special effects allowing the Japanese war planes, known as "Zeros," to weave among the vessels docked in Battleship Row, but otherwise applauded the film as authentic.

Especially the graphic battle scenes, which depicted the mayhem and hysteria that ensued when the bombs fell.

"It was really tough watching some of those things," Ewing said later. "It really got to you. But I was here. I was going to see it."

After the movie, the men, clad in the group's signature colorful Hawaiian shirts, made their way next door to the King House Chinese Restaurant, where they and their wives enjoyed a complimentary meal and a round of applause from other diners when they walked in the door.

Helen Beckley sat at a table near the back of the room, reminiscing with the men about memories of Pearl Harbor her husband had shared with her before his death on Feb. 10.

Her eyes swelled with tears in describing how it felt to watch the movie without him.

"Awful," she whispered. "I wished I hadn't."

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