Gainesville has lost one of its heroes.
Pearl Harbor survivor Harvey “Mack” Abbott, 91, died Thursday.
Arrangements are being handled by Memorial Park Funeral Home, and a celebration of life service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the First United Methodist Church in Gainesville.
While Abbott’s wartime experiences have been chronicled in articles in The Times and in his book, “First and Last Shots Fired in World War II,” he didn’t open up about his history until later in life. He was 70 when he published his book.
Paul Abbott, Harvey Abbott’s youngest son, said his father’s service in World War II was a mystery to him as a child.
“I was always curious,” Paul Abbott said. “I found medals and patches and things when I was a kid and he’d hide them in his drawers and wouldn’t ever talk about the service. I took them when I was older, probably 30 years old, and put them into a shadow box and highlighted all of his medals and ribbons from battles. That inspired him to start talking about Pearl Harbor. That got him to go back and start talking about it and how he was going to keep that memory alive.”
Mack Abbott was just 17 years old when he joined the Marine Corps. After boot camp at Parris Island, he was moved to the 3rd Defense Battalion and shipped to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
He was in his barracks on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor, according to a previous article in The Times.
“There was this plane coming out of a (cloud) bank and I could see two men in there that looked like they were laughing at us,” Abbott told The Times in a 2010 interview. “Then, I saw it was a Japanese plane. I could tell by the red ball on the wing.”
“... I got back to my room and ... was shooting the breeze with two other guys when all of a sudden, I heard an explosion and looked out the window, which faced the shipyard.”
A sergeant told Abbott, a private first class, to “start firing at those guys.”
He went to a parade field and took aim with an M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle as the attacking aircraft flew overhead.
He later helped men who were swimming back from ships to get to a hospital.
“The hospital got full, so (we were told) to put them in the grass in front of the hospital. They had one nurse out there checking them to see which one would be next to go in.”
After the surprise attack, which killed 2,386 military personnel and civilians, Abbott would go on to serve in the South Pacific, including at Guadalcanal and the invasion of Saipan.
After the war, Abbott went to the University of Houston and later worked for Grinnell, a company that made pipe fittings, valves and other products. He spent 40 years in various sales and management positions until he retired at 70.
He moved to Gainesville in the late 1990s, first living just off Lake Lanier.
Abbott was active in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and was instrumental in establishing and maintaining the Pearl Harbor Survivor Memorial at the Marietta National Cemetery. He was also recognized as a veteran in the Circle of Honor at the Freedom Garden at the Northeast Georgia History Center. He also served a number of years as grand marshal of the annual Memorial Day parade due to his service in World War II.
Dave Dellinger, a veteran and past commander of Paul E. Bolding American Legion Post 7 in Gainesville, said he would miss hearing Abbott’s war stories.
“(Pearl Harbor) was just one of his stories,” Dellinger said. “He was everywhere in World War II. He was such a character to listen to him tell stories. He was fascinating, really something. If you never talked to him, you really missed something.”