The man who may be Rochester's last Pearl Harbor survivor has died.
Navy veteran Stan Hwalek died April 16 at the age of 99. The Rochester native spoke often about the attack that plunged the U.S. into World War II.
In a 2016 interview with WXXI News, Hwalek said he was a coxswain aboard the U.S.S. Nevada the day of the attack. At 7:30 a.m., he was reading a newspaper on deck when he spotted smoke on the horizon. He thought it was from a military exercise. Then he saw a Japanese bomber fly overhead and the battleship was torpedoed.
All crew members were called to their posts. Hwalek quickly reported to the ship's turret when the alarm sounded. His job was to hoist bags of gunpowder up to the ship's 16-inch machine guns. While doing that, he was positioned in what he described as a cubbyhole.
"I heard bombs dropping," Hwalek recalled. "Two or three of them just dropped right next to the turret and I was in there and I was as scared as could be. I was really praying in there. I was all alone."
The bombing eventually stopped, and the Nevada managed to get underway despite the torpedo hit and several bomb strikes. Hwalek said they were very near the U.S.S. Arizona at the time of the attack and he saw the ship blow up. The fire from the explosion scorched the port side of the Nevada, he said.
"I think of this pretty often," Hwalek said in 2016. "The thing that triggers it mostly is when I hear airplanes flying around. I almost come to the point of shedding a tear or two now and then. I had some good buddies -- shipmates that got killed and wounded."
Hwalek, who is survived by a son, daughter, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, said he feared younger generations would forget about World War II once veterans like himself were gone.
His funeral is at 11 a.m. Friday, May 3, at St. John the Evangelist Church, 2400 W. Ridge Road in Greece.