Originally Posted Online: Dec. 02, 2012, 11:05 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 02, 2012, 11:54 pm

Pearl Harbor survivors stress 'our duty' to remember

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By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Welvaert
The last of the area Pearl Harbor survivors, Eldon Baxter, Davenport, Bob Cewe, Port Byron, and Alvis Taylor, Davenport, gathered at the American Legion Post 569 in Milan on Sunday for an observance.

MILAN -- And then, there were three.

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."