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Sept. 30, 1919 – March 9, 2014

Earl J. Wickett was a 22-year-old Army private, heading toward 8 a.m. Mass in Hawaii on what turned out to be one of the darkest days in U.S. history.

“All of a sudden, I heard a lot of noise, but it was in the distance,” Wickett said last December, recalling that at first he assumed it was just a routine plane maneuver.

“But then I saw a low-flying plane, and I saw the rising sun on the wing,” he said of the Japanese symbol. “Then I knew.”

Mr. Wickett, one of the few surviving eyewitnesses to the attack on Pearl Harbor and a retired Buffalo Fire Dept. lieutenant, died Sunday in Mercy Hospital. He was 94.

Even in his last years, Mr. Wickett, of South Buffalo, delighted in the chance to keep the Pearl Harbor story alive for younger generations.

He and his wife, Jean, used to attend Pearl Harbor survivor reunions in Hawaii, but those became more difficult as the survivors reached their late 80s and 90s. For years, he kept in touch with fellow Pearl Harbor survivors from Cleveland and Rochester. And he appreciated the annual Pearl Harbor remembrances, to help prevent such tragedies from happening again, for the sake of his five children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Three months ago, on Dec. 7, Mr. Wickett addressed the crowd at the American Legion’s annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Service in West Seneca.

“The biggest thing is, it’s a pleasure to be here one more year,” he said. “Hope to see you next year.”

A Buffalo native, Mr. Wickett graduated from Buffalo Technical High School, was drafted into the U.S. Army in April 1941 and shipped to Hawaii on the President Cleveland..

After surviving the Pearl Harbor attack, he went on to serve with the 251st Coast Artillery in Fiji, Guadalcanal and Bougainville. He was honorably discharged in July 1945 as a corporal.

Mr. Wickett then joined the Buffalo Fire Department, rising to the rank of lieutenant and receiving the Honorary Deputy Chief Carl Hitchcock Award for his part in rescuing an infant from a burning building. He retired in 1981 after 36 years of service.

Following retirement, he enjoyed traveling with his children and grandchildren, gardening, working around the house and trying to beat the odds at the casino.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, the former Margaret “Jean” Finnegan; three daughters, Joanne Stetter, Susan Hosken and Judith Brug; two sons, Gerard and Robert; and a brother, Kenneth.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, Abbott Road, South Buffalo.

– Gene Warner