Pearl Harbor survivor reaches 90th birthday

Pearl Harbor survivor George Lamm - Courtesy photo
Pearl Harbor survivor George Lamm
— image credit: Courtesy photo

One of Oak Harbor’s national treasures turned 90 on Aug. 24, celebrating with old flying buddies at the PBY picnic.

A retired Navy lieutenant commander, George Lamm is a Pearl Harbor survivor who went on to fly the fabled PBY Catalina at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, among many other duty assignments.

Lamm was a young petty officer radioman aboard the destroyer USS Ramsay, built in 1917, on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor. The vessel’s ammunition was mostly dummies used in practice and much of the live ammo was stored in lockers on that calm Sunday morning.

Lamm said he was among the first to notice a plane flying overhead was Japanese. The ships that could headed out to sea as quickly as possible.

“We were the second ship out of the harbor during the attack,” Lamm recalled. “Bombs were falling behind us.” One Japanese plane tried to hit the Ramsay with a torpedo but missed.

“A dive bomber tried to get us and plug up the harbor but he missed to the stern,” Lamm said.

Lamm was frustrated that he couldn’t shoot back at the low-flying enemy. “They had the ammo locked up,” he said. “I could have taken my BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and shot’em out of the sky.”

The Ramsay did have some live ammo on board. According to Wikipedia, the ship fired its guns in combat for the first time during the Japanese attack. It also laid down mines that may have sunk one of the Japanese mini-subs involved in the surprise attack.

As the Ramsay hit open water, those aboard could look back and see the devastation being wrought on Pearl Harbor. “Blood and guts,” is how Lamm describes it.

After a couple of days at sea the Ramsay returned to Pearl Harbor, swapped its dummy ammo for the live stuff and went to war. It hunted submarines, planted minefields and performed escort and patrol duties.

Lamm had wanted to be a pilot but his shipboard duties kept him from attending flight school as planned. He finally got his wings after the war in 1947, and continued his long Navy career. His name is on the roster of the Silver Eagles at the Navy Air Museum in Pensacola. He retired on Oct. 30, 1969.

After the Navy, Lamm became a commercial fisherman in Alaskan waters, retiring for the second time in 1983.

Attending his birthday party at the PBY picnic was his wife Ada and his twins from a previous marriage, David and Diann, who visited from Jacksonville, Fla.

Lamm has lived in his present house in Oak Harbor since 1996, but now describes himself as a “snowbird,” moving between Oak Harbor and California.

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