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, March 12, the 71st day of 2014. There are 294 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Soldiers from the barracks on the Arsenal manage to elude the vigilance of the guard nearly every day and come to town armed. In the hands of excited and perhaps intoxicated men, these weapons are dangerous. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Manufacturing's merchants and professional men of Moline were petitioning the Western Union Telegraph company to establish a telegraph office in the business area of the city. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Three Rock Island students, the Misses Eleanor Cleaveland, Dorothy McCabe and Ruth West, escaped injury when fire destroyed College Hall at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War gave a party for William H. Stremmel, the only survivor of John Buford Post 243, GAR. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The East Moline Grade School Board of Education last night granted salary increases totaling about $47,000 to teachers and staff members. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Five champion spellers from the Rock Island/Milan School district were selected after competition this week at Modern Woodmen of America. Winners are Sarah Cottay, Christopher Gilbrich, Jared Vogele, Kedric Roper and Kenny Stevenson.