Fon B. Huffman, 95, believed to be the last survivor of the Dec. 13, 1937, Japanese attack on the U.S. gunboat Panay outside Nanjing, China, died in his sleep Thursday at a nursing home in Sierra Vista, Ariz., according to his daughter Nancy Ferguson.
A native of Truro, Iowa, who joined the Navy at 16, Huffman was a 24-year-old veteran sailor working as a boiler man when he was assigned to the Panay, which was part of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet patrolling the lawless Yangtze River to protect American interests under a treaty with China.
Japanese forces were attacking Nanjing, then the Chinese capital and called Nanking, and the U.S. Embassy was ordered evacuated.
The Panay picked up several embassy staff members and American and Italian journalists and was making its way downriver when the Japanese planes attacked.
Several bombs hit the Panay, and two sailors and an Italian journalist were killed. Dozens were wounded.
Norman Alley, a U.S. newsman, captured footage of the airplanes attacking the ship and the Panay’s gunners firing back.
The Japanese government later said it didn’t know the ship was American and paid $2 million in damages.
Huffman remained in the Navy until 1949 and served on destroyers in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II.