Milton Mapou didn't wear the ball cap -- the one with "Pearl Harbor Survivor" stitched across the front panel -- to draw attention to himself.

That would have been the last thing the quiet and humble Navy veteran would have wanted.

No, Mapou wore the cap pretty much everywhere he went because he wanted people to remember the bravery of so many that day, the heroism, even the horrors suffered. He wanted people to honor the thousands who were lost on Dec. 7, 1941, an attack that he found himself in the thick of, from the deck of the USS Detroit.

"He didn't want his fellow seamen to be forgotten," said Barbara Barber, a friend who accompanied him in 2016 and again last month on his two return trips to Hawaii for anniversary remembrances. "He was such a strong man with everything he'd been through, such a hero."

Mapou, who lost his wife, Helen, in 2009, died Jan. 17 after catching a cold while on that December trip and then falling at his South Side home on Christmas Eve. He was 97 and, as far as local veterans groups know, one of the last couple of Pearl Harbor survivors living in Columbus.

Until he got sick, Mapou had continued to volunteer every Wednesday and Saturday -- as he had faithfully done for years -- at Motts Military Museum in Groveport, a place he loved.

It was there that 60-year-old Greg Keller, a retired captain with the Ohio Air National Guard, met the man who became a close friend. Their friendship developed, in part, because Keller believed he got to live out the career military dream that Mapou had wanted, but that a grievous World War II injury had stripped from him. Keller and his wife, Leah, helped raise money for Mapou's trips to Hawaii and accompanied him.

They, along with Barber, also took Mapou home to his native New York last spring, giving him a chance to order and enjoy a New York-style pepperoni pizza for the first time in decades.

"I felt I had an obligation and a calling to share my bounty with Milt to enable him in his later years to enjoy life to the utmost," Keller said through tears Jan. 18. "And he did."

Mapou's story was a remarkable one -- one that The Dispatch told in 2015. Having grown up in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of Queens, he enlisted as a boatswain's mate in 1940. On the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack, he had just filled his breakfast tray when the sky filled with planes. He ran topside.

"I looked up, and I seen this plane coming," he once told The Dispatch. "And I yelled to my buddy, 'Japs!' I could see the big meatball on the side of the plane."

More than 2,300 American troops died that day. Mapou's ship was spared, and he was virtually unscathed -- physically. The emotional scars from the carnage he witnessed, however, were immeasurable. He once said simply, "It hurt."

He was reassigned to the USS Pringle, a warship that was split into two and sunk on April 6, 1945, during the battle of Okinawa. Mapou was one of 258 who survived that attack. But barely. His body was shattered, and he was left floating, nearly dead, until sailors from another ship plucked him from the water hours later.

He spent two years in hospitals. His right leg was never the same, and he lived with chronic pain.

That never stopped him.

"Milt was living history, and never minded sharing his story," Keller said. "He always had a kind word for everyone and ... never met anyone who didn't become a friend."

Calling hours for Mapou will begin at noon Friday, Jan. 25, at Graumlich Funeral Home, 1351 S. High St., with a funeral and military honors to follow at 2 p.m. He will be buried later at Arlington National Cemetery.

hzachariah@dispatch.com

@hollyzachariah