Army veteran Alvis Taylor of Davenport says talking about the bombing of Pearl Harbor is “Hell all over again.”
He and Eldon Baxter of LeClaire relived the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii during a Sunday afternoon event at the Milan American Legion, 515 1st Ave. W. They were guests of honor at the annual observance in which 60 people where served a meal of chipped beef on toast (also known as a “shingle” to those who served in the military) and cornbread.
“What they did for us — that was awesome,” said Pat Vandesampel of Milan, a member of the Legion auxiliary. Her husband, Charlie Vandesampel, was in the honor guard for 26 years, she said.
She stood in line to get a plate of the hearty dish. “This is what they ate,” she said. “It was filling.” In addition to the meal and recognition of the two Pearl Harbor survivors, barbershop quartet Tonal Insanity sang patriotic and holiday songs.
The Legion, she said, helps many veterans and their families.
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Norm Dunlap of rural Milan is Legion adjutant. “We’ve been doing this for about five years,” he said. He added that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on a Sunday morning before 8 a.m. “Ninety percent of the people (there) were on shore leave,” Dunlap said. “They probably weren’t planning to go out and pick raspberries the next morning.”
Taylor was serving as a medic when the attack began.
Taylor remembers the call he received from the officer. “He said, ‘I need all of the ambulances you have.’
“I expected it,” he said. “I saw the planes come in.” Ambulances transported the wounded to area hospitals. As far as the horrors of what he witnessed that day, he still says, “I can’t describe it.”
His commanding officer, he said, was a brain surgeon who treated 19 men after the attack. “All 19 survived,” Taylor said.
Navy veteran Baxter, who served aboard the USS West Virginia, saw the first torpedo “about 300 yards off,” he said. He boarded a rescue boat to escape the ship where 106 men died that day.
For the Pearl Harbor anniversary a year ago, Vietnam Veterans Local 299 raised money to send Taylor and Baxter to ceremonies in Hawaii.
Both Dunlap and past Legion commander Louis Fisher of Milan said they wish more people had attended. “I would have liked to have filled this hall,” Dunlap said.
“It’s really a puzzle to me why there aren’t more people here,” said Fisher, who cooked all the food beginning about 9 a.m. “We still have 83,000 missing in action — nobody knows where they are.
“We can’t forget. We will never forget — at least, I won’t.”