Residents of the Golden Belt came together Monday to say good-bye to World War II veteran Art Gruber, the last known U.S. Naval survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack from Barton County.
The American Legion Riders organized a standing flag line for those entering Nicholson-Ricke Funeral Home for the funeral.
Arthur “Art” Carroll Gruber died Jan. 27 at his home in Lindsay, Oklahoma. He was 97 years old.
At the age of 17, Gruber lied about his age so he could join the Navy. After boot camp he was stationed aboard the USS Tennessee and his home port was Hawaii. He was in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. His ship was heavily damaged but able to sail. After getting out of the harbor they spent almost one year without ever dropping anchor going from Alaska to Australia chasing the Japanese. When his ship came in for repairs he was transferred to the USS Nashville (McArthur’s flagship) and was in Tokyo Bay for the signing of the peace treaty.
On Pearl Harbor Day in 2015, Gruber was welcomed back to Hoisington High School, where he was presented with an honorary diploma. Hoisington High School Principal Joel Mason read a brief biography of Gruber’s life and accomplishments. The following is from the Great Bend Tribune story about that event.
Born in Elkhart, he entered the Navy on Dec. 23, 1940, following an older brother Glenn into the service. Once he was stationed at Pearl Harbor, he sent money home to his family every month.
His job in the navy was to be in charge of the No. 6 fire room, helping to power the steam engines of the battleship.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Gruber was eating breakfast when the call for general quarters was sounded. Everyone was to report to their battle stations, and no one was happy. There were never drills on Sunday. The men in the fire room depended on the smoke watch to keep them informed about what was going on up top. The smoke watch for Gruber’s men was killed by enemy fire on his way to general quarters. The men in the belly of the USS Tennessee felt the explosion of the USS Arizona. A man arrived and told of the attack by the Japanese and the death and destruction “as far as you can see,” which prompted Gruber to go up and see. He could not believe his eyes. The destruction was extensive, and death was everywhere.
The USS Tennessee took one hit. Later, it was sent on a mission to hunt Japanese ships, and the crew was out for nine months without ever dropping anchor. Communication only came through letters delivered by other ships delivering fuel and supplies. When they finally came to shore, the sailors had a hard time adjusting to solid ground again.
Gruber stayed in the Navy until the end of the war, until he was finally discharged. He returned home to Hoisington where he was greeted by his wife, Betty, and his 3-month-old daughter, Cindy.
He held several jobs and later went on to be successful in the oil industry.
Gruber attempted several times to earn his General Equivalency Diploma, but whenever he began studying, another big job would come up, Mason told the Hoisington students in 2015.
“Art hopes he can be an inspiration to every student here this morning to complete their high school requirement and graduate with good grades, and hopes all of you will be encouraged to go to college or trade school and do whatever you can to fulfill your career dreams,” he said, presenting Gruber with a plaque of appreciation for his military service. “On behalf of the USD 431 Board of Education, it is my privilege to present you with this honorary diploma from Hoisington High School.”
Representatives from the Class of 2016 then came to the stage and personally invited him to join them and walk at graduation in May.
“What an honor to me to have this offer,” Gruber said, accepting the invitation. “I will be here.”
He did attend the ceremony on May 8, 2016, wearing the red cap and gown of an HHS graduate. He was also presented a Quilt of Valor from the Golden Plains Quilts of Valor in honor of his service.