Thursday, January 22, 2015
Raymond J. Orr, a longtime Westport resident who as a 19-year-old seaman first class survived the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Jan. 16 at home. He was 92.
Orr was the grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade in 1996, and for many years he proudly shared his war experiences with fellow Westporters. He frequently visited schools with other veterans to recount his war remembrances to youngsters.
On Dec. 7, 2005, as he prepared to lead the Pledge of Allegiance before a board of finance meeting, he remembered that fateful day in Hawaii 64 years earlier. He was aboard the USS Bagley, a destroyer, when the Japanese surprise attack began.
“I was in a great position to see what was happening,” recalled Orr. “I was on the deck of my ship, and I remember waving to the first Japanese torpedo plane as it flew overhead. I thought it was the Air Force practicing.
“Then he dropped his torpedo, which I saw, and it went into the battleship Oklahoma,” he continued. “Then after the second plane came down and did the same thing, the Oklahoma started to capsize. Then I knew this was no practice, no drill. It was war.”
Orr said he still felt for the more than 2,300 sailors who died Dec. 7, 1941, “and as a matter of fact, not to be maudlin, when I die my ashes are going to be spread over Pearl Harbor. It’s some spiritual thinking that I’ll join them.”
Looking back, Orr drew parallels between Peal Harbor and 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror.
“People were always saying, ‘Remember Pearl Harbor,’ and my response was always, ‘Why would you want to remember that?’ he said. “And the answer was always the same: So it wouldn’t happen again.”
However, Sept. 11, 2001 changed all of that, Orr said, showing serious chinks in the nation’s preparedness armor.
“When the World Trade Center was knocked down, it came as a complete surprise, and obviously we were not prepared,” he said. “And now I hear the people who put out the 9/11 report say that we are still not prepared.
“I don’t want to appear negative, but we as Americans aren’t prepared until after we are attacked,” he added.
Regarding the Bush Administration’s response, Orr said while he supported the war in Afghanistan, he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“Anybody who’s been in a war would want to think a hundred times before they would start a war, a preemptive war,” he said. “Apparently one of the things we’re not prepared about is communications.”
Orr was born July 15, 1922, in Darby, Pa, to Andrew Best Orr and Bridget Stanley Orr. A varsity letterman in high school basketball and golf, he joined the Navy on graduation.
After seeing action in the Southwest Pacific Theater, he attended Princeton University under the wartime V-12 officer training program, followed by Dennison University and the University of New Mexico where he met his wife, Billie (Wilma Bowles).
At UNM, he was elected president of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He was commissioned as an ensign in 1946, and for the next 19 years he and Billie and their growing family traveled the country: Puget Sound, Hawaii, Southern California, Virginia, Guam, Monterey (where he earned his master’s degree in management from the Naval Postgraduate School), Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.
After retiring from the Navy in 1965, he moved to Westport to finish his working years at Perkin Elmer.
He was also an active in the Westport community, including serving as president of the Western Connecticut Retired Officers Association, the Y’s Men of Westport/Weston, and the Southern Connecticut Purchasing Association.
He was predeceased by his wife of 51 years, Billie, and his brother Robert Orr of Riverside, Calif. He is survived by five children, Kathleen Upchurch (Lanny) of Alexandria, Va.; Raymond A. Orr of Westport; Deborah Mellor (Mark) of Boothbay Harbor, Maine; Patricia Orr (Meg O’Donnell) of Shelburne, Vt.; and James Orr (Margaret Wismer) of Lewisburg, Pa.; nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and his companion of more than 16 years, Kathleen Wardrip.
A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, March 21 at 2 p.m. in the Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Ave.
—James Lomuscio contributed reporting.