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George Elliott, 85; Warning on Pearl Harbor Went Unheeded

December 26, 2003|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

George E. Elliott Jr., one of two American servicemen whose warnings of Japanese planes approaching Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, were brushed aside by his superiors, has died. He was 85.

Elliott died Dec. 20 in Port Charlotte, Fla., of complications from a stroke.

A native of Chicago, Elliott enlisted in the Army in 1940 and was an apprentice radio operator on the day of the Japanese surprise attack.

According to an Associated Press story on the 50th anniversary of the attack, Elliott and another private, Joseph L. Lockard, were on duty at Kahuka Point on the northern tip of the Hawaiian island of Oahu working with some new radar equipment.

Just after 7 a.m., Elliott saw "something completely out of the ordinary" on the screen, a huge blip, 137 miles out. Elliott called in his report to the Information Center at nearby Ft. Schafter and was initially told there was nobody on duty to take the information. Elliott and Lockard waited for a call back, which came minutes later.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 27, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 News Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Elliott obituary -- An obituary of George E. Elliott Jr. in Friday's California section misspelled Kahuku Point on Oahu, Hawaii, as Kahuka Point.

Lockard took the call and told the duty officer, Lt. Kermit Tyler, that the radar blips suggested "an unusually large flight -- in fact, the largest I have ever seen on the equipment."

Tyler responded that what Lockard was seeing were American B-17 bombers flying to Pearl Harbor from the mainland.

"Don't worry about it," Tyler told Lockard.

The two soldiers kept tracking the radar blip, which grew so large that Lockard figured the radar set was broken. They turned it off at 7:45 a.m., after the blip fell behind Oahu's mountains.

Within minutes, the first bombs began falling on Pearl Harbor's battleship row.

In the aftermath of the attack, Lockard was given almost complete credit for spotting and reporting the approaching Japanese aircraft. He was promoted and sent to Officer Candidate School and awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1942.

Elliott became a footnote to the event until joint congressional hearings on the attack in 1946. After lobbying from senators, the Army gave Elliott the Legion of Merit for his actions on that day, but he refused to accept the medal, saying he should not be given a lesser medal than Lockard.

Over the years, historians helped uncover Elliott's true role in that morning's events.

Even though Lockard was instructing Elliott in the use of the radar equipment that morning, it was Elliott who insisted that Lockard give him more instruction after their watch was over at 7 a.m. It was also Elliott who suggested that they call in the information on the advancing planes even though, at first, Lockard demurred. And it was Elliott who continued to keep the radar unit operational after the two men were told by Tyler not to worry about the advancing planes.

In his authoritative history of the Dec. 7 attack, "At Dawn We Slept," historian Gordon W. Prange noted that Elliott's one mistake may have been that he hadn't insisted that Tyler be told the exact number of planes they were tracking on the radar equipment. Had he done so, Prange said, Tyler would have known that it could not possibly have been the dozen B-17 bombers coming from the mainland.

Why Lockard was singled out for praise in the wake of the attack was never particularly clear. Some thought it was because Lockard took the return call from Tyler and made the report on the advancing planes.

To his dying day, Elliott lived with a sense of frustration.

"He had a feeling ... that if the warning had been heeded, they could have at least got planes in the air and lives could have been saved," Elliott's son, Tom, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla. "He felt that way right up to the day he died."

After the war, Elliott lived in Long Branch, N.J., where he worked for New Jersey Bell Telephone for 33 years.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his companion, Eloise Falknor of Port Charlotte, and a brother.

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