John Rauschkolb was 92.
Rauschkolb needed his parents permission to enlist in the Navy as a 17-year-old before graduating high school, the Marin Independent Journal reports.
He was serving aboard the USS West Virginia during the Dec. 7 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that led to the United States entry into World War II.
Rauschkolb's experience amid horrific circumstances did nothing to diminish his humanity, his son, John Rauschkolb II told Patch.
“I think it made him a better man because it brought an awareness of how short life can be and what a blessing we have in the time that we have available,” Rauschkolb said.
“He was very easy man to love. He didn't have any rough edges or sharp corners, so it was very easy to get close to him and to interact with him.
Rauschkolb's death has saddened an extended Marin County community.
Novato Mayor Pat Eklund, a neighbor and longtime friend of his, has for years attended Memorial and Veteran's Day events with Rauschkolb, walking with him from Civic Center to the parade grounds.
“He's definitely going to be definitely missed,” Eklund said, “especially this Veteran's Day there's going to be a lot of tears that he's not there.”
The community's reaction to Rauschkolb's death comes as no surprise to his son.
“It's very comforting but we've always known that he's been a popular celebrity because of his Pearl Harbor survivor status,” John Rauschkolb II said.
“It just reaffirms what we already know about the man, that he was a great patriot, it helps us feeling good about the man's life.”
Rauschkolb worked for the U.S. Postal Service in San Francisco most of his life after World War II, organizing a meeting of Marin County Pearl Harbor survivors, the IJ report said.
"I had 17 members at one time. I'm down to four," he told the IJ in a 2010 interview.
Rauschkolb was reluctant to share his experience of the horrors of war until later in his life.
“He painted a picture that was so clear of not only what was happening at Pearl Harbor but of what these young men were doing to save their shipmates,” Eklund said, noting that Rauschkolb helped pull some of his friends out of the oil-soaked waters.
“Even the bodies; he was asked to pull out the bodies of some of his shipmates.
“John in my view is definitely a hero.”
Rauschkolb offered a hauntingly descriptive account of his experience aboard the battleship on the day of the attack obtained by the IJ.
"I could see the planes headed towards the ship. I could see that they were Japanese and watched the torpedoes drop from the aircraft headed for the USS West Virginia," he said.
"I felt six torpedoes and two bombs hit the ship. You could hear the tremendous explosions, feel the vibration in the metal throughout the ship and see the fire. The U.S. Navy said the ship was hit by seven torpedoes, the Japanese Navy said nine."
Rauschkolb enjoyed life “right to the very last second,” his son said, noting that his father had just shared a morning brunch with his son, daughter-in-law and three beloved grandchildren.
“He was in good spirits,” John Rauschkolb said. “He had his faculties, he was laughing and engaged in conversation.
“I kind of look at that last day as a payback for Pearl Harbor. He went through hell at Pearl Harbor – in fact he was reported as missing and presumed dead at Pearl Harbor – so 'Providence' decided to give him a good last day with his family around him and relatively good health and good spirits and a clear mind.
“His passing was comfortable. It was peaceful and it was unexpected.”
Rauschkolb is survived by his son, John Rauschkolb II. A memorial service for Mr. Rauschkolb is scheduled to be held on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in San Rafael.