More than 2,400 soldiers, sailors, Marines and civilians died in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, when 361 warplanes from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and drew the United States into World War II.

Another 1,100 were wounded that day.

But not everyone who was wounded or killed that day was serving in the military. Families near and far lost fathers, sons and husbands.

And some, like Elaine Burt Abraham, lost a loved one who might have become her husband.

By all accounts, Abraham has led a very good life. She and her late husband, Thomas, lived on a family farm on Independence Highway — where she still resides — reared three children and enjoyed successful careers with the U.S. Postal Service.

But her life could have turned out much differently if her steady boyfriend, Robert S. Brown, a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed at Hickam Air Field, had not died on Dec. 7, 1941.

“He was a good Christian,” said Abraham, a native of Salt Lake City. “We met at church and went to church together. If he would have come home, we likely would have gotten married.”

Abraham said Brown’s mother notified her of his death.

Brown’s death spurred Abraham — whose maiden name was Burt — to eventually leave Utah and enlist in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). She served for a time at the Naval Air Station Tillamook blimp hangars on the Oregon Coast.

The Tillamook base operated from 1942 to 1948 and housed eight blimps.

She and her twin sister, Betty, had volunteered during their high school years at the local USO center in Salt Lake City, where they liked to dance with the soldiers and sailors.

They graduated from high school in Ogden, Utah, in 1942. Betty got married and later moved to Pennsylvania with her husband.

Elaine worked at a local bank, and in 1944 enlisted in the WAVES.

According to a May 15, 1944, clipping from the Salt Lake Telegram, Burt was among four woman from the area who had enlisted and were headed to the U.S. Naval training school in the Bronx, New York.

In July 1944, the Salt Lake Tribune reported under the headline, “War Girls … Here, There ‘n Everywhere,” noted: “Orders to report at the naval air station at Pasco, Wash., have been received by Elaine Burt, seaman 2-c, who has completed her training at the naval training school in New York City.”

“I worked in the post office,” Abraham said of her Navy career. “Our ensign wanted everything to be perfect.”

Abraham said working around the giant blimps was fascinating.

“It took 11 men to hold them down,” she said. “I loved it. It was interesting to see what another life was like and I worked with other girls from all over the country.”

Abraham earned the rank of seaman first class, adding that because it was her first time away from home she had to learn to get accustomed to change.

After the war ended, Abraham worked in banks and for the post office and married Thomas Abraham in 1951.

Her husband had been born and reared on the family farm on what is now Abraham Lane off Independence Highway, about six miles north of Albany.

He had also served in the Navy during the war.

They built a new home on the farm in 1964 and had three children there: Paul and Mark, who live in Benton County, and Suzann, who lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

“Dad worked at the Bureau of Mines and for the post offices in Albany and Salem,” Suzann said.

She said her mother also used to write letters to soldiers and sailors during the war.

“She kept many of the return letters,” Suzann said. “Many of them came from guys who were in battle areas and they had been censored. There were lots of words cut out or marked out by the censors.”

In 1976, after the death of her husband, Elaine’s sister Betty moved to Albany. For 25 years the sisters volunteered as Pink Ladies at the Albany General Hospital. Betty died in 2009.

Elaine said she was honored to be named one of the grand marshals for this year’s Veterans Day parade in Albany.

“It was very interesting,” she said.

“We are very proud of her,” Suzann added.

Elaine had donated her WAVES uniform to a museum in Tillamook. It and other items were later moved to a museum in Madras.

But there is a plaque and photo of the WAVES at the Tillamook Air Museum, in which Elaine is included.

Asked if she thinks about the events of Pearl Harbor often, Abraham noted, "I wish I could have changed a lot of things.”

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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