More than four years ago my chiropractor told me, “Ken, I have a patient who is a Pearl Harbor survivor. Here’s his number, call him.”
I called him and made arrangements to interview him. My life changed.
After asking Roland Peachee basic questions, I learned he was born 67 days after my dad. Immediately I felt a connection to him. Both were about the same height, lived through the Great Depression, served their country at sea making their mark in U.S. history.
Roland said, “I got tired of using a mule’s rear-end as a compass and decided there had to be something better, so I joined the Navy (Oct. 17, 1934). After my training in Hampton Roads, Va., I was stationed on the USS Maryland, BB 46, for six years.”
He reenlisted in 1940 and was assigned to the USS Rigel at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Rigel was a repair ship with a machine shop, above and below water welding equipment with divers, and propeller repair capability. The Rigel repaired ships from battle damage to proceed to a dry-dock for the necessary repairs to fight another day at sea.
Roland had completed cutting the meat for the ship’s crew by 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, another day in paradise. Under the grey painted canvas covering his portable butcher shop, Roland looked up to see a few puffs of smoke followed by several loud explosions in the harbor.
“Thinking it was the Army, I went ahead with my work, and little did I know we were being attacked,” Roland said.
During the attack, Japanese pilots dropped two bombs near Roland. The first bomb landed near the bow of the USS Rigel passing through a motor lifeboat, but it didn’t explode. The second bomb hit the water between the Rigel and a tanker full of high test aviation fuel, highly explosive. The water spray and shrapnel injured two or three sailors. Both ships were lightly damaged.
The crew of the USS Rigel had the right men at the right place at the right time to rescue their fellow sailors on the capsized USS Oklahoma. The Rigel’s crew used cutting torches to cut through the 1-inch armor plate on the underside of the Oklahoma near the propeller shaft to free the trapped crew. Without the Rigel’s rescue efforts, the death toll at Pearl Harbor would have been several hundred more sailors.
The USS Rigel, with Roland’s cooking contributed victories at the battle of Coral Sea and Guadalcanal campaign. The Rigel was involved in landings at New Britain, Cape Gloucester, and New Guinea.
Roland’s first wife died in 1980. They never had children. He married Evelyn, a cousin of his first wife in 1983. He considered himself fortunate to be married to his second wife for 33 years. Roland didn’t have an answer as to his long life.
For his 10 years of service to his country, Roland was awarded the Navy Good Conduct Medal twice, American Defensive Service Medal, American Theater Campaign Medal, Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Pearl Harbor Survivor Medal. After personally witnessing and surviving four years of carnage he said, “I hate war.”
Roland died Sunday. He will be buried on Feb. 16 at the Northern Nevada Veterans’ Cemetery. At the close of the ceremony, Taps will be played. The flag draping his casket will be folded 13 times and presented to his wife, Evelyn. “On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to this Country and a grateful Navy.” I hope you will join me, being grateful for Roland.
“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”
The above verse is the first of the five verses of Taps.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.