The three remaining local survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor sat in silence on Sunday night at the American Legion Post 569, as post adjutantNorman Dunlap spoke of the infamous day nearly 71 years ago.
On Dec. 7, 1941, with their friends and fellow servicemen, Bob Cewe, of Port Byron; Alvis Taylor and Eldon Baxter, of Davenport, were caught "in the prime of their lives," Mr. Dunlap said.
The country heard of the horror over scratchy radios, Mr. Dunlap said.
Looking back, he said it is important to remember the high and low points of the nation's history.
And "Pearl Harbor certainly is one of the low points."
While the attack at Pearl Harbor is not pleasant to recall, Mr. Dunlap said, it is "our duty" to remember. And while it is important to remember the 2,400 servicemen lost that day, it's also important to "remember those who survived."
In 1941, Mr. Baxter was a 21-year-old storekeeper in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia in the harbor. He told the crowd of about two dozen people he was supposed to leave the ship and pick berries with friends during the day of the attack. He was readying to leave the ship when sirens rang out in the naval yard, which signaled fire and rescue, he said.
Soon after, he said he was on the quarterdeck of the ship when he saw "the Jap plane" come out of the mountains.
"I saw the first torpedo" of the attack, he said, and it flew right at him.
He could see it was a Japanese plane because it flew so close to the ship. "The pilot waved at us," he said.
He went to a battle station two decks below the main deck, he said. A little while later, he got the call to abandon ship.
"We didn't know what was happening," he said, adding that the captain had been hit by shrapnel.
He was trying to ready life rafts when "another wave of bombs" came. Ducked down, he said, he "prayed and prayed."
Another wave came again, and he ducked once more, praying.
Then, his "prayers were answered" when a motor boat picked him up and took him to Ford Island.
The next day, he wrote home to tell his family that he was alive -- with "two Clipper stamps" on the letter. But it didn't arrive until the day before Christmas.
Mr. Baxter had been reported among the dead, and the family already had a funeral service for him. "I don't know where they buried me," he said, and smiled.
After his presentation, Mr. Baxter pulled news paper clippings, photos and more from an old brown suitcase, and fielded questions from the folks in the crowd.
Nearby were his fellow survivors Mr. Cewe, who was stationed on the U.S.S. West Virginia but was on land during the attacks; and Mr. Taylor, who was in the army and stationed at the Schofield Barracks near the harbor. Mr. Taylor dispatched ambulances on the day of the attack.
Mr. Dunlap said this was the legion's third Pearl Harbor remembrance gathering. It's a "history lesson worth retelling."
Today is Wednesday, April 16, the 106th day of 2014. There are 259 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Yesterday some bold thief stole a full bolt of calico from a box in front of Wadsworth's store, where it was on exhibition. 1889 -- 125 years ago: A team belonging to Peter Priese got away from its driver and made a mad run across the Rock Island Bridge. The driver was thrown from his seat but not hurt. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Carlton Taylor was appointed district deputy grand master for the 14th Masonic District of Illinois. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Moline's million dollar municipal airport was dedicated to air transportation and the national defense by Lt. Gov. John Stelle. 1964 -- 50 years ago: THE ARGUS will be election headquarters for Rock Island County tomorrow night, and the public is invited to watch the operation. The closing of the polls at 6 p.m. will mark the start of open house in the newsroom. Visitors will see staff members receiving, tabulating and posting returns. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Few bricks actually tumbled, but no one seemed to mind as about 1,000 people gathered to celebrate the formal start of demolition at the site of a downtown civic center.