Lawrence area’s last Pearl Harbor survivor dies at 100
photo by: Nick Krug
Story updated at 6:52 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2019:
A man believed to be this area’s last Pearl Harbor survivor has died at age 100.
Longtime Lawrence resident, U.S. Navy veteran and University of Kansas professor Vincent U. Muirhead died April 30, according to his obituary published this week.
Muirhead was a rangefinder and optical officer on the USS Maryland when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack killed more than 2,000 Americans and directly spurred the United States’ entry into World War II.
The Journal-World interviewed Muirhead at his Lawrence home in December 2016, the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
The morning of the attack he and his shipmates were getting ready for breakfast when they were diverted to their battle stations instead. On the way, Muirhead said he peeked out a porthole and saw a Japanese plane “flying low.”
From his station deep inside the Maryland, Muirhead described getting a picture of the destruction outside — the USS Arizona in flames and the USS Oklahoma rolling over next to the Maryland — via radio headsets and reports from sailors above.
Muirhead told the Journal-World that he didn’t recall feeling fear during the attack, saying, “You haven’t got time to be frightened.”
In 2016, Muirhead said he knew of no other Pearl Harbor survivors in Lawrence or the surrounding area.
The last Pearl Harbor survivor in the Kansas City metropolitan area, Dorwin Lamkin, died earlier this year, multiple news outlets reported.
In 2017, The Wichita Eagle reported there were estimated to be fewer than a dozen Pearl Harbor survivors still living in the entire state of Kansas.
After Pearl Harbor the Maryland was repaired, and Muirhead remained assigned to the ship until 1943, when he entered Navy flight training. During the course of his career, according to his obituary, Muirhead flew 34 types of aircraft including Hellcats, Wildcats, Corsairs and helicopters.
Muirhead remained in the Navy until 1961, when he was hired by KU for his second career. He was a professor of aerospace engineering and a 12-year department chair before retiring in 1989.
Born in Dresden, Kan., Muirhead attended Kansas State University for a year before entering the U.S. Naval Academy.
Daughter Sherry Muirhead, who lived with her father in Lawrence, described him as disciplined and precise.
She said those and other traits gleaned during his war days remained with him.
She recalls her dad passing other cars on road trips, sometimes too fast for her comfort. He’d tell her, she said, “I flew in formation at much higher speeds than this.”
At the same time, if ever there was an issue on the road, he had the ability to think and act “immediately,” she said.
He built what seemed like “millions” of tiny, detailed model airplanes that he kept in the house and never allowed anyone else to dust, she said.
“He didn’t get frustrated easily by something that was difficult,” his daughter said. “A lot of people don’t have that level of concentration.”
Vincent Muirhead had been at his home in Lawrence up until a few weeks before he died at a Lenexa nursing facility, where he moved following a downturn in his health, his daughter said.
Funeral services for Muirhead are planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Southside Church of Christ, 1105 W. 25th St.