Last Man Standing: Honoring Pearl Harbor Survivor Alex Horanzy
December 4, 2015
Some say that the origin of the phrase “the last man standing” refers to the last military cadet still able to continue a drill when all others have succumbed to exhaustion. At the urging of a friend, Alex Horanzy joined the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in 1995 and helped found the Philadelphia chapter. By the time he turned 90 years old, he was the last remaining member of the local chapter and even outlasted the association itself, which dissolved in 2011. Now 94, Horanzy is the president of the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Association in Pennsylvania and is still going strong.
Alexander Horanzy was born on April 22, 1922 while his family was on vacation in Poland. He grew up with 6 other siblings in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He helped the family get through the Depression years by working as a golf caddy.
All 5 of the Horanzy boys would go on to enlist in the military.
When he was 17, Horanzy enlisted in the Army on July 13, 1939, with his father’s permission. He was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland for basic training with the 66th Infantry (Light Tanks outfit). During the 6 months he was there, he learned how to fire machine guns at aircraft. After serving about a year stateside, Private Horanzy requested to be shipped overseas; originally electing to go to the Philippines. Before the troop ship arrived at Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina, the quota for the Philippines was met and he was destined for Hawaii. He landed on Oahu on November 2, 1940 and was assigned to the 19th Infantry at Schofield Barracks (later to be recast as the 24th Infantry Division).
PEARL HARBOR STORY
Horanzy has told his captivating story many times over the years, often with his mementos from World War II available for the interviewer or attendees to view.
The 24th Infantry Division had just returned to Schofield Barracks on December 6, 1941 after about a week of field maneuvers on the northern end of Oahu. It wasn’t until 2 a.m. that Horanzy went to bed. Instead of sleeping in as he intended, the sound of planes and machine guns jolted him awake at 7:50 a.m.
No one expected the enemy to attack Pearl Harbor in broad daylight, but there was no mistaking it. Japanese planes were flying so low their red circle insignia and even the heads of the pilots could be seen from the ground.
Because of rumors that the Japanese were going to land on the north shore, Horanzy and his fellow soldiers were ordered to load trucks with ammunition and explosives from storage that would be used to fortify the area. When they heard the Japanese Zeros overhead, they stopped and attempted to find cover. Torn between the possibility of a bomb dropping on the warehouse or being easy targets as they ran, they never got to the ravine despite multiple attempts.
“To this day, I wonder why they never fired upon us or bombed the warehouse that was full of explosives. They could have fired upon us while we were running for cover in the middle of the open field toward the ravine, or maybe they were saving their attack for the grand prize, Pearl Harbor, in which they succeeded. I think if the Japanese had known that the warehouse was full of explosives, they would have bombed it and I would not be writing you today,” Horanzy noted in his submission to the Pearl Harbor Survivors website.
In a 2014 interview with Shaun Illingworth (Rutgers Oral History Archives Director), Horanzy read directly from an article entitled “24th Infantry in its First Attack:”
“When the day was over, five Japanese fighters had been brought down by the 24th Division’s small arms fire. The fledgling division was the first Army unit to feel the fury of Imperial Japan and the first to fight back.”
Horanzy recalls being defenseless as everything was locked up because of the saboteur threats. About a half-hour later, they were able to get their M-1 rifles and other weapons to take aim at the second wave.
While 29 Japanese planes were destroyed that day, it paled in comparison to the 164 United States planes lost and the 159 damaged (National Park Service statistics). The P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk aircraft were sitting ducks at Wheeler Army Airfield.
In route to deliver supplies, Horanzy discovered a Japanese flag under the seat of an enemy aircraft downed in Wahiawa. The focus post-attack was to set up a defense.
POST PEARL HARBOR ATTACK
In September 1943, the 24th Division moved to Australia for intensive training in jungle fighting. Horanzy later fought in New Guinea where the troops spent a lot of time in the swamps. Leeches, mosquitoes, and black flies were rampant there and as a result, he contracted malaria. He was honorably discharged on July 13, 1945. He continued to have bouts with the disease in the United States and had to collect disability until he was able to work.
Under the GI Bill, Horanzy went to commercial art school, but later worked for the Department of the Army in security. After passing his GED test, he entered a 4-year apprenticeship for machinists and toolmakers, turning down a police job in the process. He worked his way up to a qualified assurance specialist for the Defense Department before officially retiring at age 55. However, he continued to do contract work and eventually went to work for his son-in-law.
Along the way, he married Katherine S. Long and settled down in Philadelphia. They had 3 children (1 boy and 2 girls) together.
The term “last man standing” usually signifies the winner of a competition or other situation. As the number of Pearl Harbor survivors still standing dwindles, Horanzy is in high demand, especially as the remembrance ceremonies happen across the nation.
As announced on November 11, 2015, Alex Horanzy was just named the 2015 Dickies American Hero of the Year. He was awarded $25,000 for serving in the U.S. military and motivating and inspiring others by speaking publicly about his experiences.
From being a keynote speaker at the Pearl Harbor Day commemoration on the Battleship New Jersey, to speaking to in front of students in the classroom, he encourages every listener to “Remember Pearl Harbor – Keep America Alert.” This was the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association’s motto but it still applies today. We hear you, Alex Horanzy, and salute your efforts!
On June 14, 2015, Pearl Harbor Survivor Alex Horanzy and the youngest of three dozen Army recruits cut the ceremonial Army birthday cake at the Stripes and Stars Festival. The William Penn Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army and the Philadelphia Flag Day Association hosted the event outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Photo Credit: Maj. Peter Lupo)