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Pearl Harbor survivor joins his comrades
Kuhn main
Adolph Kuhn proudly displayed the American flag outside of his Manteca home on Sycamore Avenue every day. He is shown in a 1999 Bulletin file photo.

He always said was just a farm boy from Kansas.

But Adolph Kuhn was much more than that.

He was a true American hero, one of 45 million men and women who have defended America in time of war.

Kuhn was a 20-year-old serving in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

He passed away Sunday at age 96 in Oceanside. Kuhn — a welder by trade — moved to Manteca in 1964. Kuhn moved to Oceanside in 2005.

His son Dean Kuhn posted on Facebook page that his papa was sick only a few days in his life and was a “God loving and God fearing man.” He also added just Thursday he was at Happy Hour in Oceanside “with all his friends he enjoyed so much time with.”

Kuhn made a vow that the United States should never forget what happened at Pearl Harbor as it is a reminder a nation with its guard down can be struck at any time. He’d tell the story of that day to anyone who would listen — service clubs, acquaintances, school children, college classes, and others.

Kuhn published his memoirs in a book entitled “Adolph Kuhn: An American Journey” (Create Space 2010). It is based upon Kuhn’s personal interviews, his poignant poetry, short stories, and daily diary entries dating back to 1939. 

Kuhn was a metal smith assigned to Ford Island naval base when the attack took place at 7:55 in the morning. He was actually on overnight leave in Honolulu and was getting ready to go to church when the attack started.

He remembering running outside and jumping into a tumble seat of a Model A Ford carrying two other sailors to head back to the base.

They were dodging bullets from Japanese planes as they scrambled to the boat landing only to find the docks ablaze and parts of the harbor on fire from burning oil. Kuhn along with 11 other sailors saw a small fishing boat just a bit off shore. They waded through the water and got into it determined to reach the places they was responsible for at the naval air station.

Bullets struck the boat’s floorboard causing it to sink and dumping the sailors into the water.

Kuhn remembers he started dog paddling as he couldn’t really swim. Along the way be found debris to help him stay afloat by clinging to it and then letting go until he reached more. The debris was from ships as well as dismembered bodies of fellow sailors and marines.

By some chance he reached the submerged farthest extension of the concrete boat ramp used for launching seaplanes off Ford island Base. Just as he reached it he recalled hearing the whistle of torpedoes heading toward targets on Battleship Row.

When the torpedoes hit the sides of the ships, Kuhn said they leapt out of the water like a big whale breeching. He could hear the screeching of bulkheads being torn apart while seeing the bodies of sailors flying out into the burning oil-coated water.

There were 2,403 casualties that day. Some 19,000 survived including Kuhn.

Kuhn and others made it to the island where they traded valiantly to move planes out of the line of fire by pulling them with tractors. Kuhn and others were then enlisted by officers in a futile attempt to try to pull survivors from the nearby sinking Arizona.

In an interview on the Comcast Cable TV show “Manteca Magazine” in 1997, the late Sid Reams who hosted the program asked Kuhn how he felt toward the Japanese today.

“I have no animosity towards Japanese people,” Kuhn replied. “Those pilots were young guys just like all of us were. They were in naval aviation, I was in naval aviation. They were trained to go and do what they had to do and if our President or if our Navy commanders and admirals told us guys at Pearl Harbor to get in a plane and fly to so and so other place and drop bombs, we probably would have done the same thing because you don’t ask questions; you obey orders.”


To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail