ROSWELL, N.M. -- John Delmar Anderson, who at age 98 was the oldest known survivor of the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Saturday at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, one of his sons confirmed Tuesday.
Anderson died early Saturday morning of complications that followed surgery to repair a hip broken a week earlier, John Anderson Jr. said.
"He was on top of everything until he passed away, he didn't miss a beat," John Jr. said.
"He was a great guy. A good dad, a good grandfather. He was very big in helping the community out," he said. "He helped older people overcome their issues. He helped kids learn to read and write. He lived life to the fullest."
Anderson and his twin brother, Jake, were born Aug. 26, 1917, in Verona, N.D. Their family later moved to Dilworth, Minn.
The twins grew up and graduated from high school in Dilworth. Both joined the Navy in March 1937, and both were serving on the Arizona when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, bringing the U.S. into World War II.
John was one of 335 men who survived the sinking of the Arizona. Jake was among the 1,177 of the Arizona's 1,512 crewmen who died, about 900 of whom are still entombed in the ship.
John began his Navy career on the USS Saratoga, then transferred to a destroyer. He was in China when that country was attacked by the Japanese.
In 1940, he was transferred to Hawaii and eventually to the USS Arizona, where he joined his brother.
The brothers were both turret gunners, but on different turrets. John Anderson also had the duty of setting up chairs for Sunday morning worship services on the Arizona's deck. After setting up the chairs on Dec. 7, he went below deck to have breakfast when he heard a "kaplunk," looked out a porthole and saw planes bombing nearby Ford Island, he told Forum newspaper columnist Bob Lind.
He then headed for his post, all the while looking for Jake. He made it to his gun turret, but before he could load it, a bomb hit the turret's top, bounced off and penetrated the deck. The resulting explosion killed many of the crew.
Shortly after, the forward ammunition magazine with 1.5 million pounds of gunpowder blew up, virtually splitting the Arizona, and leaving dead and dying men everywhere, he told Lind.
As the ship began sinking, a senior officer ordered Anderson onto a barge taking wounded men to the beach, and they picked up wounded men on the way. He later took a small boat back to the Arizona to continue looking for Jake, but did not find him. Anderson was wounded in returning to the beach but swam to land and grabbed a rifle and two bandoliers of ammunition. He then jumped into a bomb blast crater on Ford Island and told Lind that he thought, "Let 'em come!"
In a 2014 article, he told Stars and Stripes newspaper that the next day, a Marine patrol told him survivors of the Arizona were to gather on a nearby dock for a head count.
"Everybody I saw there had rags around their heads," Anderson said. Bandages covered their arms, skin was scorched and hair was burned off. "Beat up something awful."
Anderson joined the destroyer USS MacDonough, and fought in battles across the Pacific, earning 14 battle stars.
After his discharge in 1945, he worked as a movie stuntman and took night classes in meteorology. A friend later convinced him to join the Navy Reserve, where he served for another 23 years.
While in Hollywood, he met and worked with John Wayne and also worked on the set of the Jimmy Stewart Christmas staple "It's a Wonderful Life."
Anderson moved to Roswell, where he was "Cactus Jack," a disc jockey playing mostly country music. He met Elvis Presley and Eddie Arnold in that job.
Anderson later became a television meteorologist and a real estate agent.
He is survived by his wife, Karolyn; four sons, Ed Anderson, El Paso, Texas, Terry Anderson, Roswell, John D. Jr., Carlsbad, N.M., and Travis Anderson, Hilo, Hawaii; 24 grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Church on the Move in Roswell, and some of his ashes will be interred in the No. 4 turret on the USS Arizona, John Jr. said.
There are only seven known survivors of the sinking of the Arizona still living, according to Nancy Nease, the historian for the USS Arizona Reunion Association.