Al Darby wasn’t the kind of war veteran who kept it all in. For decades before he died last month, days before he would have turned 92, he talked about what happened to him in World War II, mainly at Pearl Harbor.
Darby, who lived most of his adult life in Absecon, enlisted in the U.S. Army in early 1941. He was sent to Hawaii and stationed at the Army’s Schofield Barracks when, on that Dec. 7, a massive Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor forced America into the war.
Darby was getting out of the hospital that morning after recovering from a broken leg he got in a base football game. He had just started walking back to his unit when he saw Japanese fighters flying in, strafing him.
“He said one plane was so close, if he had a baseball, he could’ve hit the cockpit,” said Lee Darby, of Absecon, his daughter.
Al remembered bullets hitting all around, but missing him.
“He always talked about that. My mom would say, ‘Here comes another one of those gosh-darn war stories,’” Lee says — in slightly stronger language. “I think it was basically a form of PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Al was used to hardships in his life. He was born in Atlantic City, but grew up an orphan, moving from foster home to foster home around South Jersey.
And even though all those bullets missed him at Pearl Harbor, he didn’t escape the war unharmed. He got malaria from mosquito bites as he trained for an invasion of New Guinea, and episodes of the disease haunted him the rest of his life. He was more haunted because the Veterans Administration refused to acknowledge his condition, even though the family fought for compensation for years, Lee adds.
Still, he wasn’t a bitter guy. He went home to Atlantic City, became a trolley driver and impressed a girl named Betty Kemmerle by being nice to her — right after a bartender was very rude to her. That meeting led to a 64-year marriage that ended only when Betty died in 2011. They had two kids, Allan Jr. and Lee.
Al Sr. joined the New Jersey State Police in 1953 and retired 25 years later as a lieutenant. But he didn’t stop working. Resorts International was about to open in 1978 as Atlantic City’s first casino, and Al was Resorts’ first security chief. He retired for good 10 years later.
But he stayed active in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, whose local chapter used to be a big group.
“We had about 60 members ... maybe 30 years ago,” says Al Matthews, 90, of Somers Point, Al Darby’s friend since they met in Hawaii in 1941 — even though both came from Atlantic County.
Now, there’s just one member of that group from Atlantic County. Matthews says he’s it, since his buddy Al Darby died.
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