Volumes can be said about the life of Jack Leaming: That he was a loving father, a generous neighbor and a humble hero of World War II.
That he loved dancing, his Cadillac and the Veterans Day parade.
But when family and friends remember him before he is buried Friday at the veterans cemetery in Boulder City, they will say what has often been said about him: He was a survivor.
Leaming was among the last local survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor and a survivor of the brutality of more than 3½ years in Japanese prisoner of war camps. He died Aug. 5 at age 93.
“He overcame things all his life. It was a long road,” his son, Curtis Leaming, said Monday. “He was my hero, my personal hero.”
Curtis Leaming said his father collapsed Aug. 4 outside a resort in northwest Las Vegas after an evening of dancing.
He was taken to Valley Hospital Medical Center, where he died the next day of complications from heart failure and other ailments.
Jack Leaming was the third local Pearl Harbor survivor to die in as many months, after the June 10 death of Clifton E. Dohrmann, the last president of the local Pearl Harbor survivors group, and the July 16 death of William Simshauser, an Army Air Corps soldier who helped a buddy fire back at attacking Japanese warplanes Dec. 7, 1941.
Only a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors remain in the Las Vegas Valley, Ed Hall said.
He said his fondest memory of Leaming occurred when the two were recognized during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at Thomas & Mack Center in 2011 on the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
“We walked out and they saluted us, and we returned their salute,” Hall recalled Monday. “I think Jack was humble and sincere. He was kind of a quiet person.”
Jack Leaming was born Dec. 6, 1919, in Philadelphia. He wanted to be an aviator and serve his country, and he joined the Navy while living in Wildwood, N.J.
As a radioman-gunner, he was one day past his 22nd birthday when he and pilot Dale Hilton took off in their Douglas Dauntless dive bomber from the deck of the USS Enterprise on Dec. 7, 1941. Their plane and 17 others fanned out west of Oahu to escort the carrier to Pearl Harbor.
By orders of Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey, they were flying under radio silence.
“About an hour into the hop, we heard, ‘Don’t shoot. This is an American plane,’ ” Leaming recalled in a 2011 interview in which he described the fate of one plane shot down by Japanese aircraft returning from the Pearl Harbor raid.
A few seconds later, they heard the pilot tell his radioman to get out the rubber boat because they were going in. “And that was it,” Leaming said.
Nine of the original 18 scout planes were lost during the attack, including some shot down by friendly fire.
With his plane’s canopy open as he and Hilton approached Oahu, Leaming said they could smell smoke that billowed from the devastated USS Arizona even before they could see the harbor.
They dodged friendly anti-aircraft fire while approaching Ford Island and landed safely at Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, Leaming recalled: “Hilton put that damn airplane in a vertical turn for the ground, and we leveled off over the sugar cane.”
Three months later, their dive bomber was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. They ditched the plane in the Pacific near Marcus Island and were captured soon after Leaming inflated a rubber boat and tried to row his injured pilot ashore.
Later, they were beaten and held at prison camps. Leaming was liberated at Osaka, Japan, on Sept. 6, 1945.
Leaming was honorably discharged after the war as a chief petty officer 1st class. He used the GI Bill to study electronics at Foothill and DeAnza colleges in California before being hired by Ampex Corp.
He retired as a technical writer from Singer Link and moved to Las Vegas in the early 1990s from Foster City, Calif.
He was awarded a Purple Heart medal in 2002.
A former neighbor, Allen Taylor, remembered Leaming as an “avid woodworker who had a shop set up in his garage. We used to sit in the garage, and the conversation would usually evolve back to stories about his World War II days. I never tired of hearing them.”
Besides his son, Curtis R. Leaming, of Newman, Calif., he is survived by daughters Patricia McMahon of San Diego, Bonnie Perunovich of Chula Vista, Calif., and Loretta Leaming-DeMiguel of Livermore, Calif.; a sister, Gladys Leaming of Wildwood, N.J.; nine grandchildren and five great- grandchildren.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Palm South Jones Mortuary, 1600 S. Jones Blvd., Las Vegas.
Burial will follow at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 1900 Veterans Memorial Drive, Boulder City.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.