Larry Petretti, the last known survivor of Pearl Harbor, Sonoma County, dies at the age of 98


Larry Petretti was a passionate nature lover, an archer with a bow or a rifle, and not so long ago was considered the oldest working real estate agent in California.

The longtime resident of Santa Rosa was also among the local WWII veterans who witnessed and responded and who carried with them a lifetime memories of the horror unleashed at Pearl Harbor nearly 80 years ago, the last man who stood.

Petretti, president for the past seven years and the sole combat veterinarian in the fraternal organization of survivors of Pearl Harbor, North Bay, died on Saturday after a brief decline in his health. He was 98.

After his death, there is no known vet in Pearl Harbor in Sonoma, Lake, or Mendocino counties. Nobody knows exactly how many Pearl Harbor survivors remain in the nation; Estimates range from a few dozen to maybe 100. A small contingent of centenarians is expected to be in Oahu on December 7th, the Pacific Fleet around 80 and abruptly dragged the US into World War II.

Petretti, a native of San Francisco, was 17 years old when he enlisted in the Navy in early 1941. He was a seaman aboard the moored destroyer tender USS Whitney, and his country was not at war when the first of 353 Japanese aircraft carriers, bombers and fighters, appeared over Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning December 7, 1941.

Like so many American sailors, soldiers, and Marines there, Petretti was a teenager who enrolled in the late 1930s or early 40s to see the world and earn a paycheck while serving his country.

“We didn’t have the first idea what war was,” Petretti told The Press Democrat shortly before the Pearl Harbor meeting in Santa Rosa in 2012. That changed instantly. Soon Petretti was helping to retrieve the bodies of other sailors from the port’s oily waters.

He said in a pre-December. 7 Interview nine years ago that Americans shouldn’t let time burn up their gratitude to “the young men who gave their lives.

“I hope they are never forgotten,” he said, “even if the last survivors of Pearl Harbor are dead, which will not be long.”

The veteran’s 55-year-old wife, Kathlene Petretti, said he had been remarkably active and healthy throughout his long life, but he appeared to be aging significantly in recent months. A few weeks ago he had hoped to perform in the Veterans Day Parade in Petaluma, as he had done for several years.

Petretti’s parade chauffeur, car lover Jim Sennes of Sebastopol, planned to drive him in a particularly suitable car on November 11th: the collector’s Lincoln Zephyr from 1941. Sennes worked on the 80-year-old Blender to make sure it was on Veterans Day was ready to go.

“I was determined to take the car with him into the parade,” said Sennes. “It would have been just spectacular.”

But it shouldn’t be. On Veterans Day, Petretti wasn’t up to the rigors of a parade at all.

“He wanted so much to be there,” said Kathie Morgan from Windsor, for decades an honorary member of the now-defunct Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, based in Santa Rosa. “He was just too sick then.”

Just two days after Veterans Day, Lorenzo Amato Petretti died at home.

He was born in San Francisco on August 23, 1923, the son of Italian immigrants. His wife said that he only spoke Italian as a teenager and that after his first day at the public school, he announced to his parents Giuseppi and Maria Petretti that he would not go back to the teachers and classmates “because they talk funny”.

The Petretti family moved to Marin County in time, where Larry graduated from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley in 1940. Soon he joined the Navy. “He’s joined for the adventure,” said one of his three children, Shawn Petretti of Santa Rosa.

Before and after the world-changing attack on Oahu, Larry Petretti served on various ships. He became a rifleman and received special forces training in a program that preceded the formation of the elite Navy SEALS.

After the war ended, he returned to the Bay Area and worked in a number of jobs, including as a bartender and employee of the Marin Municipal Water District. Over time, he embarked on a long career as a real estate agent and then a broker.

He and Kathlene were married in Reno in 1966. They moved a little before settling in Santa Rosa 40 years ago.

In his spare time, Larry Petretti enjoyed hunting and fishing, archery and shooting. His son Shawn said he was once a national archery champion.

Even at the age of 90, Petretti continued to work as a real estate agent.

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