Born in 1922, Herb Elfring spent his early childhood in South Dakota. After his family lost their farm in 1932, he moved to Montana, where his father found work on a newly authorized dam project. Elfring joined the Montana National Guard at the age of 16 and worked with his father before he graduated from high school. At the invitation of his brother, he then moved to San Diego, Calif. There, he attended San Diego State University and joined the California National Guard.
When the California National Guard was activated in late 1940, Elfring deployed to Hawaii with the 251st Coast Artillery, with which his primary role was defending airfields. He was stationed at Camp Malakole, and on the early morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he heard the sound of bombing. His camp was soon struck by a Japanese aircraft, the bullets of which missed him by just 15 feet. Responding to the crisis, he joined his fellow servicemen at the radar station, which was also struck by Japanese forces. On that infamous day, over 2,400 Americans died, and more than 1,000 were injured. Around 200 aircraft and four battleships were also destroyed.
After the U.S. declared war on Japan, Elfring continued to operate a radar station until 1942. With his unit, he deployed to the Fiji Islands and was promoted to second lieutenant. He moved on to the Solomon Islands, where he helped defeat an attempted Japanese attack in 1944. Elfring, at this time a captain and a graduate of the Officers Candidate School, then deployed to the Philippines, where he helped protect the Clark Field airstrip. He finally returned to the U.S. in 1945 when he was honorably discharged from the Army.
After leaving the military, Elfring enrolled in the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. Afterward, he worked for Consumers Energy, a utility, for 35 years, retiring as a senior engineering supervisor. While in college, Elfring met his future wife, Ruth Royce, whom he married in 1948. He eventually had five children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. After a 57-year marriage, Elfring’s wife died in 2005.
As of 2022, Elfring is one of 1,500 survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. Throughout his life, he has returned to Hawaii over 10 times, joining fellow survivors at the yearly memorial held to remember those who were killed in the attack. He attended the most recent memorial before celebrating his 100th birthday, for which more than 100 people were present. Currently, he lives at an assisted living residence, where he continues to engage in activities he enjoys, including exercising, playing cards, spending time with family and square dancing.
We honor his service.