Thirteen-year-old Peggy Littmann stood amid the lifeboats, one of many on a transpacific crossing with an infant tucked into the front of her life jacket.
She is one of the many survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. By February 1942 she was on the USS Henderson, one of a 14-ship convoy taking families from Hawaii to San Francisco.
"It took 14 days," she said Wednesday. "It was almost comical. One ship ran out of food. One lumber ship ran out of fuel and had to burn its lumber. A Japanese sub was following us and we had to stand by our lifeboats.
"I was with my aunt, who at the time had a 16-year-old and a set of 4-month-old twins. I would put my life jacket on and stuff a baby down the front of me. I don't know what I thought I was going to do. I don't know how to swim."
Peggy Littmann, now Peggy Baccelli of Minden, had just moved to Pearl Harbor and was staying with her aunt until her family could move into base housing. The little duplex overlooked Pearl Harbor.
"We had a ringside seat," she said. The ringside seat was memorialized by her father, Robert, in the years closely following the attack in an oil painting.
"My father was a self-taught artist, " she said. "We told him what we saw."
Robert A. Littmann served on the Oglala, an old minesweeper docked next to the St. Helena during the attack.
"The concussion on the St. Helena was so bad the Oglala burst its seams and sank," Baccelli said.
Baccelli's aunt's house overlooked a set of three giant fuel tanks.
"Thank God they were empty," she said, "or they would have blown them up and us with them."
Baccelli said Japanese intelligence was well aware the tanks were empty.
"There was an ad in the Dec. 3 Honolulu Star Bulletin that showed a woman by a chair. Behind the chair was a black cloud and next to the chair was a list of so-called fabrics, all in Japanese. The prices added to $7.55, which was the time they attacked. I still have the ad somewhere."
Baccelli joined about 40 other Pearl Harbor survivors Wednesday for breakfast at Grandma Hattie's in Carson City to commemorate the attack. It was her first visit with the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
Ben Belsky of Sparks, another survivor in town for the remembrance, was a U.S. Marine.
"I was in my bunk. I heard an explosion, then another one and another one, and someone came in yelling the Japanese were bombing us," Belsky said. "All the officers were at home, wherever that was, and all we had were our rifles. Someone broke into the ammunition and we sat there shooting. We brought a few of them down. That morning we had nothing. It was a terrible thing."
The 40 or so survivors remembered the fallen with prayers and honor and celebrated the group's second-place finish in the Nevada Day parade. The association plans to pass on the honors to the students at Carson Valley Middle School who built the float. The students are those of Elaine Toth, who is the daughter of Bill and Helen Roney. Bill is a survivor of the attack, but was on Kaneohe.
"I was standing watch," he said. "I was just getting ready to come off watch when the attack started. I was 18. At about 7:45 I looked up and saw these large flights of aircraft. Some peeled off and attacked Kaneohe and the rest attacked Pearl Harbor.
"I was inside of the hangar. The hangar was all blown up. I was lucky to get out of it. They always say a miss by an inch is as good as a miss by a mile.
"It was just total confusion. I ran around along with everybody else helping to push airplanes away from the fire. But it didn't do any good. As soon as you moved one away another bomber came and hit another one. Our whole squad, 28-planes, was destroyed."
The roomful of sailors listened in silence as guest speaker Capt. Ray Alcorn, former Vietnam prisoner of war and retired veterans affairs director, spoke to the survivors about their sacrifice during the attack and in the war that followed.
"As (NBC News Anchor) Tom Brokaw said, 'And so our greatest generation answered its call.' Only imagine if you had not been there. We in the generations that follow can only say thank you," Alcorn said.
SO YOU KNOW
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will award three $100 U.S. savings bonds to the winners of an essay contest at Virginia City Middle School at 1:30 p.m. today. They are: Derek Waldow, Josh Mathews and Mark Baugh. All are in eighth grade. More than 40 students competed in the contest. Brian Grover, Kate Jones, Tim McMillan and Patrick Weinland received honorable mention in the contest. Please see Page A6 for one of the essays.