Pearl Harbor survivor George Hursey dies in Brockton at 98.
The state’s last known survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor died of natural causes on Tuesday, leaving Massachusetts without a living veteran of one of the deadliest foreign attacks to ever take place on American soil.
Born on Oct. 14, 1921, George Hursey grew up with nine siblings on a farm near Durham, North Carolina. They lived in a log cabin and ate homegrown vegetables and livestock raised by their parents, he later told his children.
Hursey excelled as a high school athlete, captaining the football, basketball and baseball teams in his senior year, but failed to secure an athletic scholarship to attend college because of his lanky frame, according to Hursey’s son Dennis, a star athlete in his own right.
Weighing in at 150 pounds despite being 5 feet 10 inches tall, Hursey joined the Army in 1939, after a year of struggling to find work following his graduation from high school. Hursey told The Enterprise in 2016 that the Army paid $21 a month, a high wage for someone with his background.
Hursey was eating breakfast one morning in 1941 after his deployment to Honolulu when the roar of low-flying airplanes startled him. He ran outside to find a harbor full of burning ships.
Brockton World War II veteran George Hursey dies at 98
His unit scrambled to move artillery guns into place, but managed to shoot only at the last wave of Japanese bombers leaving Pearl Harbor.
Hursey went on to fight in numerous battles in the Pacific, including a stint on Guadalcanal.
“As bad as Pearl Harbor was, he said Guadalcanal was 100 times worse,” Dennis Hursey recalled.
Hursey told his son that when his Army unit first arrived on the island’s shore, the water had turned red with blood from Marines who’d stormed the beach earlier in the day.
Hursey passed out during a battle there after an explosion sent metal shrapnel into his arm. He woke up on an aircraft carrier, and returned to the United States by ship in 1944, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge before arriving in San Francisco.
“I’d never seen something so beautiful,” he told an Enterprise reporter last year.
Upon his return, Hursey, who’d reached the rank of staff sergeant, was reassigned to an air force base on Cape Cod to train artillery men. On weekends, G.I.’s stationed at the base traveled up the South Shore to Brockton to enjoy the city’s then-bustling night life.
It was there that George Hursey met Mary Gulla, a Brockton native born to Italian garment workers who would soon become his wife of 73 years.
Hursey, raised in the Protestant faith, converted to Catholicism during their two-year courtship.
Hursey made numerous career changes as they settled into a home on Kenwood Street in the city’s Campello neighborhood. Initially, he found work as a custodian and maintenance man at one of the city’s shoe factories. He later joined the U.S. Postal Service, from which he retired at age 58.
Hursey then drove buses for the Brockton Public Schools. When he retired at age 83, his bosses conducted a nationwide search and determined he was the oldest school bus driver in America.
During his free time, Hursey worked as a football scout for Duke University, securing scholarships to the prestigious college for numerous Brockton-area athletes.
In the immediate aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, some 84,000 people were eligible for membership in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, according to a letter from the group’s president. At the time of its publication in 2014, the letter said there were just 3,750 survivors left nationwide. The age and poor health of the group’s members have since contributed to the group’s dissolution.
By 2018, Hursey was believed to be one of two remaining Pearl Harbor survivors in Massachusetts, along with 101-year-old William Kostanski of Greenfield. Kostanski died in September.
Of the 100 soldiers in Hursey’s outfit at Pearl Harbor, he was the last remaining.
“I’ll tell you, my dad really misses his Army buddies,” Dennis Hursey said in a 207 interview. “They experienced things nobody else can understand.”
Seventy-eight years later and some 5,000 miles from Honolulu’s Pearl Harbor, Hursey passed away at St. Joseph’s Manor, a Brockton nursing home run by the Archdiocese of Boston.
Hursey is survived by his son Dennis, his daughter Maria and his wife Mary.
Following a cremation, a memorial gathering will be held in the Russell & Pica Funeral Home at 165 Belmont St. in Brockton at 10 a.m. Interment at the Massachusetts National Cemetery on Cape Cod will be private.